[...] Saw a matinee preview on Saturday of "Voyage," the first of three parts of Tom Stoppard's trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, at Lincoln Center Theater. This is Stoppard's ambitious attempt to provide a sweeping account of the young Russian intellectuals of the mid-19th century who chafed under the stifling Czarist system and sought a new nationalism grounded in Russian themes and intellectual freedom. It is the usual Stoppard mix of drama and comedy, with characters occasionally breaking into set speeches which defy the conventions of normal dialogue, sounding more like prose textbook than human speech. But those moments are merely scattered through the show; otherwise the dialogue is convincing and idiomatic.
The cast is very strong, especially Ethan Hawke as the fatally egotistical Michael Bakunin. It is a huge cast, wielded expertly by director Jack O'Brien in a stunning production. There was still some learning of lines going on, I think, since I heard a few slips, but then it has not officially opened yet. The house was pretty full, and the audience very enthusiastic, for good reason. Stoppard is capable of writing interminably long acts, but in this case the successions of short scenes keep things from becoming over-extended, and the cast is so marvelous to watch that the time flies by. One does have to concentrate hard with Stoppard, and it really helps to arrive early enough to read the synopsis of the action. The construction is unusual - Act I sets out events from the Summer of 1833 through the fall of 1841 at the Bakunin country estate of Premukhino; then Act II reverts back to Spring 1834, giving us the same events from the perspective of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In other words, a strictly chronological presentation would have intermingled the scenes of Acts I and II, with the same characters as they traveled backed and forth between the locations.
Does it always work? Well, Act I can have a disjointed feeling, but Act II hangs together and has many "aha" moments when the gaps in Act I are filled in with what was happening away from the country estate in the interim between scenes. By the end, one has a fuller picture and the characters are coming into focus.
I'll be seeing Part II in December. It is possible towards the end of the run to see all three parts in close proximity, although that would be a big investment of time over a short period.... Anyway, this one is definitely worth seeing.
And the show inspired a meditation on art at AgapeAngst:
[...] Seeing Tom Stoppard's fine play today made me excited to think - to engage in pretentious debate -to search for something beyond the real - beyond the base acts of survival, sex, and food consumption. I felt invigorated with the spirit that I , no we, can make culture - we can make the history of our choosing. We are bound by the follies of war and oppression - but we , we make what remains, what endures - we leave behind our spirit - we leave behind our life. That is our immortality. That is our art.
I don't want to write about art - I want to make art. I want to be art.
I don't know what I've just said - but I know that I have a feeling, a nagging to get it all out - there aren't words that can define it. I just want to feel it and know.
By the way, a reader has written in to ask if anyone's going to see Voyage or Shipwreck from Dec 18 - Jan 3. It's her first time in NYC so she would like to go to the theater with other fans. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here if you're interested.