Review: Remy Bumppo’s Radio Play—Artist Descending a Staircase—Is a Tom Stoppard Delight

Modern art, death and trippy art talk, as only Tom Stoppard can write it. That’s the best reason to listen to Remy Bumppo Theatre Company’s latest production, a radio play about three aging artists, a bit of romance and mystery

The play is Artist Descending a Staircase—the title itself is a H/T to Marcel Duchamp’s iconic painting, “Nude Descending a Staircase,” one of the works that set the art world on its ear in the 1913 Armory Show in New York, and later in Chicago.

Stoppard’s brilliant and witty dialog about modern art and artists, spoken by four superb Remy Bumppo actors, might have you yearning to use the Google machine. But don’t do it during the play. Just listen and let yourself sink into the mood and appreciate the dialog. In fact, it’s best to listen with earphones to help you concentrate on the voices and sound effects.

The play is the story of Beauchamp (Nick Sandys), Martello (Annabel Armour), and Donner (Peter A. Davis), plus an appearance by the lovely and desired Sophie (Aurora Real De Asua). The first three are Dadaist artists and longtime friends. The story begins with the mysterious death of one of them, which inspires the other two to reminisce hilariously about their artistic works and relationships, going backward in time from 1972 to 1914.

The play is one of Stoppard’s early radio plays, written in 1972 and a precursor (or even a prequel) to Travesties, to my mind one of his finest and wittiest, in which he posits a confluence of geniuses in 1917 Zurich—where James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Tristan Tzara (the founder of Dadaism) actually abided for a time. While Staircase doesn’t meet the cleverness of Travesties, its dialog is satisfyingly Stopppardian.

As Beauchamp describes how his new recordings of silence are works of art “for the millions,” Donner calls them rubbish. “An artist is someone with a gift who can do something more or less well …. Skill without imagination is craft, which gives us useful objects such as wicker works and picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”

James Bohnen directs this audio treat, with Greg Matthew Anderson as assistant director. Christopher Kriz is sound designer and engineer.

Remy Bumppo’s production of Artist Descending a Staircase, a radio play, runs 90 minutes and will be available for streaming through April 18. The production is free to listen to; however registration is required. An Open-Captioned version of the production will also be made available for viewing. To register to listen, visit here and choose your date. For questions regarding registration, please email the Remy Bumppo staff.

Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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