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April 28th, 2007

Coast of Utopia

I love Tom Stoppard. I've always loved Tom Stoppard. I remember the original Rosenkranz and Gildenstern Are Dead when I was a senior in highschool, sitting in the front row, extreme left with my mouth open and my heart pounding. I've seen a lot of Stoppard since. I haven't liked all the plays equally, but I've always been stimulated by them, and Arcadia is (and remains) one of my favorite plays of all time, the works of Shakespeare not excepted.

The Coast of Utopia: Voyage doesn't threaten Arcadia's throne, but it shares some of the things I like best about it. It's intelligent (duh. It's Tom Stoppard); it has heart without being sentimental; parts of it are very funny at the same time they're harrowing; it demonstrates and makes comprehensible the glories and the horrors of intellectual passion.

It's also full of very, very good performances.

I can't begin to give you a plot synopsis: Russian politics in 1840 complicated by the loves and relationships of something like 15 characters, 5 of whom are named Nicholas and many of whom look not unalike, are well beyond my poor powers to describe. Frankly, I got good and lost, especially in the second act, where who was writing in what little paper and getting or not getting sent to Siberia or fleeing to Berlin or dying of consumption all began to run together. And what was that tall guy dressed up as a ginger Cat in top hat and tails doing at the end

I'll have to read the play to figure it all out, but the point was, last night, I didn't care. I was too busy mourning the death of the gently clueless Liubov, and the blindness (both moral and physical) of her father, who owned 500 souls yet called himself a liberal, and adoring the literary critic (Russian names skate right out of my mind--Vassarion, that was it) played by Billy Crudup as an earnest, passionate, clumsy, socially-challenged and still utterly charming and period-appropriate politics geek who, were he alive today, would have a huge and widely read political blog.

We're going to see Part II (Shipwreck on Wednesday, at a matinee. There weren't any tickets for Part III, but we'll probably go down to the theatre and see if any get turned in. My instinct is that it doesn't really matter: Voyage works as a stand-alone, certainly, a kind of Chekovian meditation on freedom and morality and philosophy and love and dissolution. But I know Stoppard is painting a complex and nuanced panorama here, and I won't be able to see the pattern without seeing the whole thing.

And I'd hate that.

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