Thursday, October 26, 2006

First fan report

Merci BS.
O.K. so here is the story. I went to the play Coast of Utopia last
Saturday night. It was a beautiful night and I was really excited to finally see the play I've been anticipating. I've never been to the Beaumont theater before but I know that Lincoln Center is an amazing place. When I got there I felt a little out of place being alone and young. The average audience member was in their 40s or 50s. I was sitting completely by myself as the seats in all the other rows started to fill up. I wanted to try and chat up some other people and see why they were there; how they heard about the show etc. But that went right out the window. The theater itself is very very small which is great. There isn't a bad seat in the place and you feel more like a part of the action on stage.

Sooo now the play... I had read Voyage before seeing the show (I even had my copy with me because I read it on the train down there!) I thought I was going to have a really hard time following the play. Not knowing ANYTHING about philosophy or Russian history, but that wasn't the case at all. The play isn't about what these guys did a long time ago but rather a very vivid description of how the passion of a few men could change a country and the dynamics of a family. Which brings me to acting. Now personal I am not a big EH or BC fan. I've seen a lot of their movies and neither ever really struck me as specifically talented rather just pretty on screen. The opposite is true in the case of this play. Both look quite disheveled (the role calls for it I'll assume) but their presence on stage is undeniable. You can feel Michael's (EH's) enthusiasm when he walks on the stage. BC really does enthrall the audience. I read one person's review where they said he represents the audience on stage and I did end up feeling the same way. Beyond that he does an excellent job of delivering very very long speeches in such a way you hardly notice he's the only one who's been speaking for 10 minutes because you're so enthralled with what he's saying. At intermission I asked how everyone was liking it (the seats finally filled in!). The people next to me did have a hard time with some of it but they missed the first few scenes sooooo...... And on the other side of me was one of the actor's parents. They were biased from the get go. But from eavesdropping I didn't hear one
negative remark!

In general the play is heartfelt but still very funny - although the audience I was sitting with wasn't as ready to laugh as I was. For just a week in, the cast's timing is amazing and they work together really well. I think EH, BC, MP, JE, and RE's understudy all have at least one scene in which they truly shine. Was wondering what it would be like with RE - his role was more pivotal then I thought. MP actually caught me off guard in the second act. She just blew me away when she delivered her speech about her husband and what Michael says about him- I knew I liked her for a reason!! Up until that point I was disappointed with the fact that the men had all the great lines. Then a scene with JE that was very amusing - she has great comic
timing. Maybe she's a cutup in real life.....?

The set is very minimal which I think works here. You aren't distracted by anything and can just focus on the action. Not to say that it isn't amazing. The start of the second act the entire audience clapped just at the set.....(same thing happened when the play started) And I agree that the lighting and sound are going to get some type of recognition. Really beautiful but a little hard to describe. Which brings me to............

The tickets are expensive but worth it. You wont regret seeing this play.

(Afterwards I got the playbill signed by the main cast as a present- thanks for ruining the surprise T..... Everyone was nice and I surprisingly wasn't a puddle of goo (which I was quite proud of). There was one "Subway Debacle" so just for the record: To NYPD/FBI/CIA/Interpol/ThePope - I'm not a stalker. Just very stupid. Next time I'm walking back to Grand Central. Love, BS)

And "boredom" at Nerd NYC recommends the show:

Kajabor and I went to the see the first part of Tom Stoppard's new trilogy, Coast of Utopia, at Lincoln Center yesterday. It's a little expensive at $100 per seat, but if you have a budget for Broadway, I can heartily recommend spending it on this. There were still seats available for a weekday show when I checked yesterday.

This is nerdy theater: it's full of screeds about abstract ideas, philosophical allusions abound, and it's a trilogy! The first part is set in 1830s-40s Russia, and centers on a group of intellectuals who will be very influential in the years to come. Mikhail Bakunin, played by Ethan Hawke, is one of them. Billy Crudup is incredibly funny as an impoverished literary critic struggling under tsarist censorship.

The next episodes of the trilogy, which we will also see, follow this group through the 1848 revolutions and beyond.

Wayne Dynes also went to see the show, and writes at length about Bakunin:

The other night I attended one of the preview performances of Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia: Voyage” in its New York production. In fact this is the first installment of a huge three-part sequence. It is about six men who become friends in the Russia of the 1830s. Appropriately, the production at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center is lavish, with a revolving stage, backlighted curtains, and a cast of almost 100. In performance the play turns out to be a kind of duel between Ethan Hawke, who plays Michael Bakunin, and Billy Crudup, who impersonates Vissarion Belinsky. Both actors are matinee idols of a sort. Mr. Hawke is monotonously strident, so the palm goes to Mr. Crudup, who is engaging in a puppy-dog way, just this side of cuteness.

The six men are fascinated by the latest developments in German philosophy, going from Kant to Schelling and Fichte, and ending up with G.W.F. Hegel. There are long, somewhat didactic speeches attempting to put these philosophical developments into a nutshell and to show how they interact with the temperaments and personal lives of the young men. Towards the end, Bakunin achieves his aim-—to go to Berlin to study philosophy.

I gather that the succeeding two parts revolve mainly around Alexander Herzen, a rara avis in Russian intellectual life, as he was neither a reactionary nor a revolutionary but a democrat. Stoppard follows Isaiah Berlin’s interpretation, and for Berlin Herzen was a personal hero. Like Bakunin, Herzen lived in exile in the West, making his appearance in “tamizdat,” periodicals and broadsides that were smuggled back into Russia to evade the censorship. These exiles mounted a process of seeking political and social change from the outside. More recently their efforts have been emulated, with varying success by Cuban, Chilean, and Iranian exiles—together with many others.

For me, however, Bakunis is the more interesting figure. Abandoning his aim of becoming a professor of philosophy he threw himself into the revolutionary struggles that convulsed Europe in the middle decades of the 19th century. [...]

At All That Chat there's discussion of seating at the Vivian Beaumont, and this good notice by Revned:

I saw it on Friday night from the left side of the Loge.
The staging is brilliant in its clarity. Jack O'Brien is a master; he finds the grandeur and historical sweep in the material and brings it to visual life, and also stages subtle character and relationship moments so clearly and vividly that they play to the whole house. He uses every inch of that huge playing space and uses it well. Even scene transitions and set changes contribute to the energy of the piece and the illustration of its themes.

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