starlady: (justice)
Stoppard, Tom. The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck. Performed by the Shotgun Players. Dir. Patrick Dooley.

The Shotgun Players continue their adaptation of Tom Stoppard's masterpiece. I liked it much, much better than their production of Voyage, the first play in the trilogy, which I saw last year, though that may be because I saw the last show of previews this time around, whereas last year I saw the second or first. Regardless, this is a much stronger cast in which Patrick Kelly Jones, playing Alexander Herzen, is no longer head and shoulders above his fellow performers.

The other thing is that this production has the great good fortune to piggyback on the recent cinematic adaptation of Les Miserables. Although that story centers around the failed student revolution of 1832, and Shipwreck has the great drama of 1848 at its center, the essential activity of revolution--barricades in the streets of Paris, people with tricolor cockades shouting "Vive la France!" and "Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!", the gutters running with blood and the buildings echoing with cannon fire--are similar enough that one feels, watching Shipwreck, a powerful sense of deja vu: I've seen this before, and this time it isn't going to work out any different.

I never wrote up my reaction to the Les Mis movie, but suffice it to say here that I found the politics of the denouement execrable, especially for an author who claimed to be a liberal, and by that measure Shipwreck comes out far ahead, for its would-be revolutionaries (with the exception of course of the inveterate rabble-rouser Bakunin, who nonetheless like Lucifer has his designated part to play) are much more intellectually honest about their positions, privileges and commitments than were the students of 1832--at least politically. In terms of their personal affairs, no one quite knows what the fuck they're doing or can be fully honest about it, particularly Natalie Herzen, Alexander's wife, who anchors the romantic plotline. I talked in my review of the collected play scripts about the gendered nature of revolution, but one thing seeing this play staged does make clear is that in the end the personal and the political aren't really separate for any of the people whose lives we follow, to their sorrow and our interest.

I also found myself having complicated and half-coherent feelings about history and revolution and just whose blood and sweat it is that must be sacrificed on the altar of "Progress" (I hate Hegel, and I cheered a little inside every time anyone in the play slammed Hegel), and I found that this post at [community profile] ladybusiness, or at least the first half of it, echoed a lot of my sentiments about why these are always questions we should be asking ourselves, and especially now. (When she gets into the song-by-song analysis of the movie, I stopped caring and agreeing quite so much.)

The nineteenth century was wild, as some of my fellow grad students and I agreed at lunch today. This production was excellent, and there are still some tickets available.
starlady: (but it does move)
Stoppard, Tom. The Coast of Utopia: Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage. New York: Grove Press, 2007.

This one-volume edition collects the revised ("New York") text of Stoppard's trilogy, which as far as I can tell is now the preferred performance script. I saw a production of Voyage in Berkeley earlier this spring, and having read the full trilogy, I am looking forward very much to seeing the rest of it.

The trilogy is loosely organized around three towering figures--Mikhail Bakunin, the father of anarchism; Alexander Herzen, the first self-proclaimed socialist in Russia and an architect of the emancipation of the serfs; and Ivan Turgenev, one of the giants of Russian literature. They and their set were the people for whom the term "intelligentsia" was coined, and Turgenev also coined the term "nihilism"--in one memorable scene in the third play, the central character of his masterpiece Fathers and Sons, Bazarov, comes to him in a dream. I loved Herzen when I saw Voyage, and hated Bakunin, and liked Turgenev okay, but my reactions changed as I read the rest of the trilogy.

To Russia. We know. They don't. But they will. )
starlady: (but it does move)
Stoppard, Tom. The Coast of Utopia, Part 1: Voyage. Performed by Shotgun Players, dir. Patrick Dooley.

Tom Stoppard is probably my favorite living playwright, but this is unquestionably not his best play, and the Shotgun Players production--while quite good, and admittedly still in previews--fails to hit the mark 100% of the time.

The Coast of Utopia is a trilogy of plays about the intellectuals and revolutionaries of Russia's 19thC other than Marx and Lenin, the artists who created Russian literature as we know it and the non-communists whose thought and actions would eventually result in the first of Russia's 1917 revolutions: the February Revolution, which was itself overthrown by the more famous October Revolution. That they failed doesn't invalidate them; indeed, the remarkable thing about Russia, as in so many communist revolutions, is that the communists succeeded at all. As with so many Stoppard plays, it's a drama of big ideas uncomfortably inhabiting people whose souls are rarely sized to match, and the play is particularly good at articulating the gender and status divide the Romantic revolution makes apparent among its devotees. All that being said, I think the central problem with this play is that its hero, Alexander Herzen, doesn't appear until the start of the second act, and then (because he's exiled for sedition) only appears in one other scene after that.

What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, it's Russia! )

All that being said, however, I would definitely recommend this production, and this play, to anyone to whom it sounds interesting.
starlady: (look up the number)
Stoppard, Tom. Travesties. 1974.

So I went with [personal profile] via_ostiense and her friend M last night to see a student production of Tom Stoppard's play Travesties, which is set in Zurich in 1917 and concerns the interactions of minor British diplomat-dandy Henry Carr with a notable cast of future and current revolutionaries: Tristan Tzara, Romanian poet and one of the founders of Dada; V.I. Lenin, Russian revolutionary desperate to get back to Russia and his rendezvous with (overcoming) history; and James Joyce, Irish pacifist novelist genius already at work on the novel that would become Ulysses. Joyce at one point actually staged a production of The Importance of Being Ernest with Carr in the lead role (no, not Ernest, the other one), and the play revolves around a very old Carr's very unobjective recollections of all of them and of the times, Zurich in springtime at war, as the dogs of Europe bark, and bark, and bark. Da, da, da. Dada dada dada dadada. Dada.

I love Tom Stoppard so much. This play was new to me, but like all Stoppard it's hilarious, and obsessed with questions like what is art? and the nature of freedom and the place of art in society and who the artist is and why. This is an earlier play than most of the Stoppard I've seen so far--The Invention of Love, Arcadia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead--and in some ways that thing I've sensed in some of his other works, the abyss of non-meaning, nonsense, that lies beneath his witty discourse and sometimes threatens to irrupt through--it's usually associated with politics, and especially with political nihilism of the sort practiced in communist countries--is less present here; this might be because Lenin is less present in the play than one might hope. Regardless, it's an amazing play, as usual; it took me rather longer than it should have to realize that Stoppard was entirely pasticheing scenes from Ernest into his text (as well as the usual suspects, like Shakespeare), and since it wouldn't be Dada without a food fight, there's a food fight, because it's Dada. Also, you haven't lived until you've seen James Joyce pull a rabbit out of a hat, because the artist is after all a magician.

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