Friday, September 15, 2006

A+ jugglers

PS. The LCT blog's been updated to say that proper blogging will begin the week of Oct 16th, when previews for Voyage start.

This interview with Jack O'Brien about The Coast of Utopia is by Robert Feldberg from North

It's not easy to go where few directors have gone before, but it's certainly exhilarating, said Jack O'Brien.

The veteran director is the most versatile man on Broadway, having in recent years staged such hit musicals as "Hairspray" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" as well as a superb revival of Shakespeare's "Henry IV."

Now he has taken on the task of directing overlapping productions of the trio of three-hour plays that make up Tom Stoppard's epic, "The Coast of Utopia."

"It's overwhelming," O'Brien said, "but it's a thrilling thing to do."

The productions, which will run at Lincoln Center from mid-October through mid-March, seem almost as much a challenge in logistics as of art.

The actors -- an impressive cast of 30 that includes Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup, Brian F. O'Byrne, Amy Irving, Josh Hamilton, Jennifer Ehle and Richard Easton -- will be performing one show while rehearsing the next, and, ultimately, will be doing all three plays in sequence.

"First, we'll be juggling two balls in the air, then all three," said O'Brien. "But the actors love it."

More of an issue to him is the chaos that might ensue backstage, where scenery pieces and props for three shows will have to be manipulated.

"That's really problematic," said O'Brien. "What happens where?"

And then there's the possibility of having understudies who will be inadequately prepared. "There's no time for them to rehearse with the cast -- that's brutal."

But O'Brien seemed a lot more excited than dismayed by the project, which examines the stirrings of rebellion in 19th-century Russia.

"This is a healthy thing to do," he said. "Most of the world's great plays were done in repertory; they were always played that way. They were not meant to be played night after night, the way we do shows on Broadway."

Stoppard, whose many plays include "The Real Thing" and "Arcadia," is always up to something unusual.

And in "The Coast of Utopia" -- first presented in London in 2002 -- he has created a panoramic view of the lives of five real men, including the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and novelist Ivan Turgenev, who questioned the role of the czar and their own responsibilities in Russian society.

"This is really the back story of the Russian Revolution," said O'Brien. "This was a society founded on slavery; the serfs were property. The elite, the intelligentsia -- that's when the word was first used -- were trying to transform an antiquated society from within."

The first play is "Voyage," the second "Shipwreck" and the third "Salvage," and they span the years from 1833 to 1865, moving from Russia to Paris, Dresden, Nice, London and Geneva.

In the final three weeks of the run, the plays will be performed in sequence, and on three Saturdays they will be presented in all-day marathons beginning at 11 a.m.

As the project was being developed, O'Brien said, he realized he would need a strong company of actors, and went to Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten, the artistic director and executive producer of Lincoln Center Theater.

"I told them, 'I don't know how to do this with the B team,' and they gave me the A-Plus team," he said. "It was an act of blind faith. There are no guarantees, but I hope we'll be able to look back and be proud."

A minor mention of the plays in this Toronto Star interview with Ethan Hawke as well.

People who understand what "Source 4s" and "lekos" are might be interested in this Google groups post by an electrician/front light operator describing the technical preparations for The Coast of Utopia. Here's a bit that's sort of comprehensible:

The scenery is designed by Bob Crowley. The most interesting part is
the large turntable with multiple traps and elevators. Don't know any specifics about the sound package. The Beaumont has the largest backstage on Broadway, though it has only 1100 seats. It is also the only full sized Broadway house with a thrust stage.

He's offering backstage tours for high school techie groups.

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