In a review of the recent London revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1972 play Jumpers, which I just saw in previews on Broadway, Michael Billington writes:
Does Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers retain its bounce? It is 31 years since its Old Vic premiere; seeing it again, in David Leveaux’s Lyttelton production, I am struck by the fact that some its ideas have dated while its core of feeling remains intact. In short, it works far better as a comedy about marriage than moral disintegration.
I think Billington misses the point. I didn’t see it as a play about “moral disintegration” at all. I would say that it is, instead, a play about the idea of moral disintegration. Or, more precisely, a play about the absurdity of denying the role of values in human life, and the equal absurdity of claiming that values themselves are absolute and universal. So, when Billington continues:
Philosopher George Moore struggling to write his lecture justifying the existence of God and the possibility of goodness still arouses sympathetic laughter; the notion of his showbiz wife, Dotty, that the moon-landings will expose our moral absolutes as “local customs of another place” seems whimsically quaint.
He really seems to miss the complexity of Stoppard’s play. True, there is something somewhat dated about both the politics and philosophy of the play, so I understand what Billington is reacting to, but I think that it is foolish and bizarre overstatement to say that what remains is simply a witty play about the breakup of a marriage. In fact, many of the arguments are even more pertinent now then they ever were. While radical liberalism in England might have motivated Stoppard’s play, it is the triumph of moral conservatism in the United States that makes the play so relevant today.
But it isn’t Stoppard’s comments on morality that motivated this post. Instead, it is one line from the play that struck me as especially relevant, both in the United States (with Florida and electronic voting on our minds), and in light of the recent Taiwanese elections. Stoppard writes,
It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.
Don’t miss a recent New York Times article on the jumpers in Jumpers.