Sunday, July 02, 2006

O'Brien on Coast of Utopia Trilogy

From Rob Kozlowski's blog.

Lincoln Center has settled on start and finish dates for the fall 2006 U.S. debut of Tom Stoppard's ambitious series of plays known as The Coast of Utopia.

The trilogy will begin on Oct. 10 with the first performance of the first play, Voyage. All three works will have opened and concluded their runs by March 3, 2007. The plays will open separately, one after another. They will begin to play in rep later in the schedule.

Jack O'Brien, the Broadway director of Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Henry IV and The Invention of Love, will helm the New York bow of the nine-hour Coast of Utopia triptych. The works first appeared under the direction of Trevor Nunn in 2002 at the National Theatre in England.

The Coast of Utopia is centered on the political and philosophical idealism and debates of mid-nineteenth-century Russia, examining the movements that excited artists and thinkers in those days. The show moves chronologically on from the 1830s, when the great Romantic poet Pushkin was still alive and his epic poem "Eugene Onegin" was all the rage in educated circles.

The main characters are the anarchist Michael Bakunin (played by Douglas Henshall in London) who was to challenge Marx (played by Paul Ritter) for the soul of the masses; Ivan Turgenev (played by Guy Henry), author of some of the most enduring works in Russian literature; the brilliant, erratic young critic Vissarion Belinsky (played by Will Keen); and Alexander Herzen (played by Stephen Dillane).

LCT has produced Stoppard's Hapgood and Arcadia.

Stoppard, O'Brien previously told, "is doing an enormous amount of work on the script, and he's been wonderfully collaborative about that. Don't forget, they were staging it while he was writing it. It's a trilogy…so it really does need a little distance by everybody, including Tom. I think he, in his own words, was ready to what he called 'take it back' and rethink it. He's done a lot of that."

"I'm very excited about it," O'Brien told "I've been lucky with Tom's work because I've had the advantage of going to school on great directors like Richard Eyre and Trevor Nunn and seeing what they've done. Tom's pieces always take a lot of time to absorb and sift down. He's arguably the greatest writer of our century, for the stage. Doing them off the top of your head, it's very hard to conceive that. So I'm very grateful that I've got this time to sift it down and work with [designer Bob] Crowley [of The Invention of Love] again and sort of see what we can come up with."

O'Brien said it was accurate to view the planned New York staging as the world premiere of the revised version of the works. "It won't be the nine hours [it was in England]," he said. "I'm hoping to get at least an hour out of it. It's three evenings. The 'marathon' [of all three together] will only be able to be done once or twice. In a week, I don't think you can sustain that much."

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