Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Another chance to win Pride and Prejudice

At long last an IMDB page is up for Road to the Sky. No info yet except a 2007 release date for the UK, and Sree Bhadra Pictures is listed as a production company alongside Echo Lake and Adirondack.

AustenBlog has a competition to win copies of the Pride and Prejudice anniversary edition - the closing date is November 2nd, so make haste. They've got a review of the set as well, suggesting a commentary by the leads in the next edition (amen!).

PS. Mags the Editrix of AustenBlog has a book coming out, The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Voyage roundup

First, read Martha Plimpton's update on being up to her eyeballs in Russia and enjoying it. Don't ingest liquids while reading.

Meanwhile, Voyage isn't to everyone's taste. Primo, Gerry Devito reckons there's too much talk.

This play is just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk and more Stoppard talk! Speeches ramble on and on and on. It is as if Stoppard took notes on the period and then put all his notes into his characters’ monologues. It just goes on and on and on, and I just lose track of the idea and what is trying to be said. This three-hour Part 1 was set in Russia in 1835 and goes forward in time. Student comes home on university holiday to his family and brings some fellow students with him. They meet his four sisters; it reminds one of Chekov’s THE THREE SISTERS. Stoppard does Chekov one better by having FOUR! Better not let him read this or he may write a play about The Four Sisters. The Russians are sad that they never had a Renaissance, a cultural revolution. They have not contributed to the culture of the world. Act 1 spans from 1833 to 1841. When we get to Act 2 we go back in time again to 1834 at the University in Moscow to see how everyone met there. This Act goes from 1834 to 1844. The time element gets confusing. Why didn’t Stoppard just write the play in a chronological time sequence? I do not think I shall bother with the three-hour Part 2 Shipwreck that will begin in December or the three-hour Part 3 Salvage that will begin in February. Then one can attend all nine hours in one day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. beginning in March. One could not ask for a better cast: Richard Easton as the head of the family with his gorgeous booming voice with a big role in Part 1 (he collapsed on the stage the next evening and has undergone a pacemaker operation; he should be back in the play in a few weeks); Amy Irving in a small role as the mother; Martha Plimton as the oldest sister; Ethan Hawke playing it rather swish as the brother who goes to University; Billy Crudup as a philosopher; Brian F. O’Bryne in a very minor role. Too bad the play was not as good as its 40 cast members!!

Mme Bahorel, a big fan of the London production, has a long, descriptive, spoileriffic report with accounts of the script changes. It also rips the show to shreds. This is how it begins:

Where's God when you need him?

So, Voyage. Jack O'Brien can go boil his head. There are some wretched cast members, the production design sucks ass, and the direction goes places I don't want. [...]

On the other hand, David digs the play despite his initial misgivings.

Saw my first play at Lincoln Center tonight, Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia”. Tonight’s show is the first of a trilogy. I only bought tickets to the first show, because I wasn’t sure I’d like it. I mean, a show that’s set in 19th century Russia about philosophy doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.

Tom Stoppard is best known for writing “Shakespeare in Love”. The cast includes Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup.

Crudup, in particular, is amazing. The play itself is fantastic. It’s very funny and fast paced.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blog Report

He Who Laughs has written about seeing Voyage, and about some frustrations in the audience too!
Last night I saw the first play, Voyage, in Tom Stoppard's trilogy The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center. As per usual at Lincoln Center, I sat in a sea (a sea) of the pale and aged. They even make a special announcement about turning off hearing aids at the beginning. And did they? Of course not. And you know why? Because they're old, and they've lived so long that they no longer need to honor society with good behavior. They've paid their dues. And, because they're ancient, we shouldn't dare confront them. They're our elders.

Well, last night, my elders pissed the hell out of me. I shushed the woman next to me about forty times. She kept turning to her husband and saying, at normal talking volume, "I hope the second half's better," and "What movie was he in?" And then she got out some candies and it took about five years to unwrap it, sending that horribly loud crinkling sound throughout the entire mezzanine. I was feeling positively murderous.

Oh, and the coughing. The coughing! I've never heard so much coughing in a theatre before in my life. I know the weather's changing and it was raining and freezing, but come on, folks. At least try and stifle it, with your hand or your sleeve or your program or your companion. Many of the characters in the play, being Russian revolutionaries, had seizing coughs, and they met their match with the thousand invalids at Lincoln Center last night. Big whooping coughs, small staccato coughs, rattling juicy coughs, piercing dry coughs; you name the bodily fluid, it was coughed up last night. I could hardly concentrate on the play.

Speaking of the play, it's hard for me to comment at the moment because I feel like I haven't seen all of it. Even though Stoppard said in his program notes that he wants the plays to stand alone, it felt to me like the first act of a three-act play. It's staged beautifully by Jack O'Brien and designed within an inch of its life -- the opening of the play is the most spectacular series of visual moments I've ever seen on a stage. I can't even describe it. It has a great cast, too: good performances (so far) from Martha Plimpton, Billy Crudup, and Jason Butler Harner. Ethan Hawke got a lot better throughout the evening (and I think he's a great stage actor), and so did Jennifer Ehle. Amy Irving had little else to do but beat her serfs, and Brian F. O'Byrne's accent distracted me. His character is the central one, however, and becomes more prominent in the remaining plays, so my thoughts will probably change.

Lincoln Center provided fantastic synopses in the program, and it was fun at intermission to walk out into the lobby and see everybody sitting on the stairs, the railings, chairs, leaning against the walls, studiously reading the dramaturg's notes.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"A bloody coup d'etat by the second rank"

Brendan Lemon of the LCT blog interviews David Manis, the actor playing patriarch Alexander Bakunin in Voyage while Richard Easton is recovering.

The Understudy
Posted October 27, 2006

On Wednesday, October 18, during the second preview of Voyage, Richard Easton, who plays the Russian landowner Alexander Bakunin, collapsed as he exited the stage during the evening performance. He was determined to be suffering from arrhythmia, and this past week underwent a procedure to install a pacemaker. He is expected back in the show in the next two weeks, and the opening date of Voyage has been moved from November 5 to November 27 to accommodate his return. Meanwhile, Easton is recuperating speedily at home, with an excellent prognosis.

One sign of the upbeat nature of his mood: Easton says he relishes the irony of the line he uttered in the play before collapsing. Easton's character is speaking to his son (played by Ethan Hawke), who has been importuning him for money to go to Berlin, and Easton, denying the request, exited while saying, "That is my last word."

To quote Billy Crudup's Belinsky in another part of the play: "Oh, my prophetic soul!"

As Easton recuperates, his role has been played by his understudy, David Manis. I chatted with Manis this week in his dressing room, after a rehearsal. I asked him how it felt to go from playing his normal role, the senior servant Semyon, to Easton's role, the landowner Bakunin. (Since The Coast of Utopia is rather obsessed with the German thinker Hegel, I couldn't help flashing, secretly, to that philosopher and his famous - famous in academia, that is -- Master-Slave dialectic. But I digress.)

Manis confessed jovially that the speed with which one can go from taking orders to giving orders is "distressingly human." He went on to say that he has understudied leading roles at Lincoln Center Theater three times before: for Sam Waterston in Abe Lincoln in Illinois; for Stephen Tobolowsky in Morning's at Seven; and for Kevin Kline as Falstaff in Henry IV, Parts I and II. He never had to go on for any of those men, however.

Manis continued, "I've been in things where understudies have gone on. "That first night is a little bit like being shot out of a cannon while you try to look calm. And you usually find that for the first performance or two everything goes fine. Because there's so much adrenaline on the stage from everybody. What can be hard is when a week later there's isn't as much adrenaline from everybody."

Manis said that there's been no drop in energy during his current interim run doing Easton's role. "We're very aware that there's still a lot left to do. It would be very different if you went on as an understudy eight months into a commercial run on Broadway when everything was settled. But here, everyone's very aware that we're still climbing the mountain. It's a very supportive cast. They've been pulling together and helping me until Richard gets back. And then we'll help him once he gets back."

I asked Manis why the idea of an understudy having to go on is so fascinating both to theatergoers and to writers - from the young innocent having to go on in 42nd Street to Eve Harrington scheming her way into the spotlight in All About Eve.

Manis replied, "For theatergoers it's about the non-actor's anxiety of being thrust suddenly into the spotlight. It hooks into the Jerry Seinfeld joke about people's number one fear being public speaking; death is only number three. About how at the funeral people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy."

Manis's mention of Seinfeld made me think of that program's storyline where Bette Midler is appearing in a musical called "Rochelle Rochelle"; after Midler is injured in a softball game, her standby ends up going on for her. Somewhere in that episode, Kramer says, "Understudies are a very shifty bunch. The substitute teachers of the theater world."

As for the understudy's fascination for writers, Manis talked about Stoppard. "In his early play The Real Inspector Hound, there are two drama critics. The second-string critic has this long monologue where he says, if my memory serves, 'Sometimes I dream of revolution, a bloody coup d'etat by the second rank. Troupes of actors slaughtered by their understudies.' I played that part in fact."

Manis added that he always hopes that, as an understudy, he is able to go on, though under kinder circumstances than the event that propelled him into Easton's role. "I always feel like, hey, I can play that part."

The cosmic cat

The LCT's latest blog post explains the ominous smoking ginger cat that appears in Voyage:

Before seeing Voyage, here's what I knew about ginger cats: One of them appeared with Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany's. And Winston Churchill owned several of them throughout his lifetime, taking a feline named Jock to wartime cabinet meetings and even mentioning Jock in his will.

A further fun fact: in Victorian pantomime entertainments for the stage (which took place roughly around the same time as some of the events in The Coast of Utopia,) the Puss 'n Boots figure was sometimes a Ginger Cat. Stoppard chose this figure, in part, to reflect the Cat's popularity at the time.

I have dredged up this trivia because a handful of people have sent us e-mails asking for elucidation on the meaning of the Ginger Cat that appears toward the end of Voyage. The Cat makes an appearance at a fancy-dress party, where the actors appear in various colorful guises. (Turgenev, for instance, played by Jason Butler Harner, turns up in Harlequin drag.)

Just before this soiree, Belinsky and Herzen have had an exchange. Herzen has informed Belinsky that a friend has died in Italy. Stricken by the news, Belinsky asks: "Who is this Moloch that eats his children?" Herzen corrects him, saying that the Moloch isn't at fault. Instead, "it's the Ginger Cat."

Wanting to proceed gingerly through these Annals of Gingerdom, I asked Tom Stoppard for a brief gloss on that moment. He replied, "Essentially, the Ginger Cat is an arbitrary purposeless malign or mischievous force/fate which deflects the individual life within the overarching Hegelian Law of History ("the Moloch") to which populations are subject."

In other words, the Ginger Cat, roughly speaking, represents the fate of the individual.

Go Myspace-friend Martha Plimpton and read her take on this theme, from Voyage rehearsals.

By the way, the postponed opening night for Voyage means that there's an extra public performance of the show on November 5th (previously booked out for the press). Good tix available, says the newsletter.

Lawrence Toppman of the Charlotte Observer writes about film-theatre crossover thesps:

I was in New York last weekend to see "Voyage," the first play in Tom Stoppard's trilogy "The Coast of Utopia." It's minor Stoppard: flabby and repetitive philosophizing without much emotional underpinning, the first inconclusive third of a nine-hour event. But this drama set in 1830s Russia was welcome in one way: Its cast held half a dozen noted movie actors.

Ethan Hawke had the showiest role as young, pseudo-political blowhard Michael Bakunin. Amy Irving played his mother, Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton two of his sisters, Billy Crudup and Josh Hamilton his friends. All have theater experience but plenty of film credits, too. They represent a healthy cross-culture that hasn't thrived until recently. [...]

Friday, October 27, 2006

Utopia postponed until the 27th of November

The Opening of the play has been postponed to the 27th of November, to allow Richard Easton time to recover. Playbill News reports.

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.

The Revolutionist

This is beaut. Keith Gessen, from the New Yorker, scribes a biographical piece on our man Herzen. There's mention of the Coast of Utopia trilogy as well.

The Russian radical writer and philosopher Alexander Herzen loved Rome for its warmth and spontaneity, but he was a little chagrined to find himself there when the revolution of 1848 erupted in Paris, seven hundred miles away. Luckily, the Romans were equal to the event. As Herzen watched, they gathered at the embassy of the oppressive Austrians, pulled down the enormous imperial coat of arms, stomped on it, then hitched it to a donkey and dragged it through the streets. “An amazing time,” Herzen wrote to his Russian friends. “My hand shakes when I pick up a paper, every day there is something unexpected, some peal of thunder.” He raced to Paris, where the provisional government was handing out grants, like some gonzo arts foundation, to anyone willing to spread the revolution abroad. Herzen’s old friend the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin had already started east to foment revolution against the Tsar; another friend, the German Romantic poet Georg Herwegh, was raising a battalion of émigré workers and intellectuals to march on Baden-Baden. Herzen stayed in Paris to see what would happen next. [...]
Read on, Lizzy!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Mish mash

  • At Theater Thoughts NY:

    Well I've been looking forward to The Coast of Utopia since I started to hear rumblings of its coming to Lincoln Center during this time last year. The show opened in London in 2002 and I know a whole host of people who must be so excited it's finally here. (Probably the same people who can't wait until 2008 for Billy Elliott) I tell you, after seeing Voyage, part 1 of the three-part series, I was not disappointed! Tom Stoppard has embarked upon a momentous story - and it comes through so very well on stage.

    The buzz about the show is about how big of an undertaking it is. This triology will be performed at Lincoln Center over the next six months and will feature 44 actors, playing 70 roles, and covering three decades of Russian life, history, art, culture, and ideals. The cast includes such great names as Billy Crudup (Pillowman, anyone?), Richard Easton, Jennifer Ehle (A&E's Pride and Prejudice), Josh Hamilton, David Harbour (Who's Afraid of VA Woolf?), Jason Butler Harner, Ethan Hawke, Amy Irving, Brían F. O’Byrne, and Martha Plimpton. There are even "marathon" performances in which the actors perform all three parts in one day - 9 hours of theatre! I must say I was a little intimidated - but I think it could be an exhilerating experience.

    It's such a hard story to explain in terms of plot (all of those Russian names), so I think I'll borrow from the website a bit: "The first part of the trilogy, Voyage, is Stoppard’s nod to Chekhov set at the grand Russian countryside estate of the Bakunin family. Four eligible sisters are under the sway of their charismatic brother, Michael (Hawke), who interferes in their lives, while fervently seeking a greater purpose in his own. As his political and philosophical journey unfolds, Bakunin’s compatriots will include Vissarion Belinsky (Crudup), George Herwegh, Karl Marx, Nicholas Ogarev, Nicholas Stankevich, Ivan Turgenev and, of particular note, the visionary leader Alexander Herzen (O'Byrne)."

    So as you can see, Voyage is mostly about Michael's journey and largely focuses around his family and their estate. It's invigorating to listen to the dialogue about Russian idealism and literature as it's battered back and forth between the actors. For the three hours I sat watching the show - I was literally enthralled by what I was seeing. I immediately bought the Lincoln Center Theater Review and can't get enough of the information I found inside.

    Now all I can say is....the second part, Shipwreck, can't come soon enough....Stay tuned!

  • By vicariousboat:

    just came back from the first part of The Coast of Utopia, which was very good for anybody interested in seeing it, and Ethan Hawke's role is very large in this part, as is Billy Crudup's (although I've just found out he's not in the third part, probably because he's dying of consumption). Anyway, I've realized I'm writing my own play series, and while not as grandiose as Coast of Utopia, with its cast of like 30, or even Angels in America with its cast of 7, it's becoming its own little world. [...]

  • A couple of IMDBers attended the preview screening of Pride and Glory. Apparently, there is much swearing and violence. Specific but uncomplimentary mention of Ms Ehle here.
  • Review of the Pride and Prejudice collector's edition at Pop Syndicate:

    I have a friend at work that is just about as movie nuts as I am. The only things he and I disagree on are horror movies as he’s not into them at all. But his first love is the British mini-series. And of those, his absolute favorite, and I mean hands down the best ever, was 1995’s Pride and Prejudice. He’s a huge Jane Austin fan, and to tell you the truth, I can’t blame him. One of my favorites is still Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility.

    Anyhow, I hadn’t ever seen the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, so when it was announced that Arts & Entertainment was going to be releasing a 10th Anniversary edition of the 5 hour mini-series, he and I were both stoked. When it came in, he must have asked me every day for two weeks, “Have you watched it yet? Have you watched it yet?” It wasn’t until a few days ago I was finally able to tell him I had and could see why he thought it was so great.


    The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice has to be one of the finest versions of any of Austin’s books. The lengthy running time allows the story to unfold in a slow and deliberate manner, eschewing any need to rush it along. It allows the story to be savored, and if you are a lover of the English language and how well it can be used in the art of sarcasm as I am, then you will find yourself giddy with glee over the verbal battles thrown about. The performances are astonishingly good, most notably from the leads, Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. The way their underlying feelings simmer just below the surface of their constant aggravation of each other’s company is as well played better than I have ever seen in any other film.

    The production is also graced with gorgeous costumes (people really knew how to dress back then as opposed to the appalling apparel you see nowadays) and breathtaking locations. I lost count of the houses I would love to live in. My friend mentioned to me that the first time he ever saw this version on DVD, he watched it twice in one night. I’m not that obsessed, but even I have to admit that the length of the mini-series was never an issue. Though it moved slowly, it did not drag. It felt like it went by much faster than it did, that’s how lost in the story I was.

    A&E went all out with this new 10th Anniversary release. I was first stricken by the sheer size of the set. While it only holds three discs, they opted to create a case that looked like an old fashioned ledger. The case holds the discs and a 120 page “Making of” booklet. The book is full of information and photographs detailing the production, but so much as to make it impossible to read in one sitting. My only complaint about the case was that the discs were held in slots cut into the cardboard. This would have been enough to hold them, but they also placed center hubs to further hold the discs in place. When you pull a disc out, it is very difficult not to run the surface across the hub. Personally I would have left the hub off.

    There is no commentary or extras on the discs with the mini-series itself, but the third disc holds quite a few. There is an our long documentary that serves as a companion piece to the book and offers a multitude of interviews with most of the cast and crew, though I thought it was odd that there were no video interviews with Firth or Ehle. There is also an episode of “Biography” which features the life of Jane Austin. Finally, you’ll find a short featurette where actors Adrian Lukis and Lucy Briers ang out and reminisce about the production in one of the house that was used. It’s quite informal and funny.

    Pride and Prejudice is an outstanding piece of work, but it will only appeal to those who appreciate dialogue over explosions and great acting over car chases. This set belongs in any collection that has any style at all.
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    Coast of Utopia bits

    (thanks BS!)
  • Broadway.com has box office stats for last week. Voyage filled the Vivian Beaumont to 90.54% capacity, grossing $280,898, making it the 4th from bottom "underdog". The Broadway.com page for The Coast of Utopia also says that seats for the three marathon performances are sold out.
  • There's a post at Martha Plimpton's blog recounting what happened the night of Richard Easton's collapse (it was indeed her onstage with Ethan Hawke, not Amy Irving as reported elsewhere) and providing an update on his condition (going well).
  • A couple of brief "saw it, loved it" sorta blog reports, chez Ryan Capps
    [...] Amber and I saw Coast of Utopia at the Lincoln Center with Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup, both of whom were awesome. Billy Crudup wandered out of the theatre and bumped into us on the street, so we got to meet him and chat with him for a bit. [...]

    and Dave:
    [...] Pidge and I had a weekend in NY (four shows: Grey Gardens [good, not great]; Heartbreak House [brilliant]; The Drowsy Chaperone [3rd time; I love that show]; and Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia: Part One [epic; amazing direction (Jack O'Brien) and deep, deep script]; not to mention two cabaret shows [saw Stritch at the Carlyle -- cost an arm and a leg, but worth it]). [...]

  • At StagestruckNYC, a mixed review:

    At the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, first of The Coast of Utopia trilogy by Tom Stoppard. EdieH reports :

    "Unless you majored in 19th century Russian history, make sure you arrive about 15 minutes before the curtain rises at The Coast of Utopia—Voyage, the first part of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy. Fortunately, the historical background and synopsis of the play provided in the program are adequate preparation... The play is set in the 1840’s, the first act in Premukhino at the expansive estate of the Bakunin family, members of the noble class; and the second act in Moscow, recounting the same events from a different perspective. Voyage portrays events in the lives of the Bakunin’s four daughters and one son during the the rise of rebellion against serfdom and censorship under Tsar Nicholas I. The uprising, led by university student philosophers, known as Decembrists, sets up part two of the trilogy, Shipwreck.

    The cast is serviceably led by several Stoppard alumni, including Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle, and David Manis, playing the part of Bakunin patriarch, Alexander, in place of Richard Easton, who fell ill during Wednesday night’s performance. Mr. Manis’ performance was a highlight of the evening. His even-handed and humorous presentation stood out among the over-emotional performances of Mssrs. Hawke and Crudup. Amy Irving, as family matriarch, Varvara Bakunin, had the unfortunate job of portraying the evils of serfdom and was seen beating one of her properties.

    The redundancy of key events in the second act, while organized to explain a complex story, led to some tedium during the evening and was, we presume, a necessary introduction to the next installment of the trilogy. Therefore, it is best to reserve judgment of Voyage until the complete story is told. In short: worth seeing if you plan to see all three parts of the play."

    EdieH asks if anyone can elucidate the significance of the "Ginger Cat" in Act II? [...]

  • At BWW, a discussion on how the trilogy might be considered at the Tony awards.
  • Finally, the Lincoln Center Theater Review edition on Utopia is online except for a couple articles.
  • Hold on, there's another report from puck of the Liev Schreiber forum. She doesn't dig the Chekhovian thing and says this about Ms Ehle as Liubov:

    jennifer ehle was ok. she's a relatively prominant character, and her part was sweet, strange, and sad, but there wasn't a great deal of depth to it. she's really just an arch of a girl who's pining for an equally sweet and strange philosopher friend of her brother's. she was in most of the family scenes, which is most of act I. i see now that that halting way she has of speaking is just her voice, not something she did for mady macbeth. it's a little out of place here.
  • Monday, October 23, 2006

    More love

    Courtesy of ultimateddy's LJ:

    yes. yes. yes.
    Work in the traditional sense can hang itself.

    Coast of Utopia is so incredible inspiring and beautiful and overwhelming. I just want to go back over and over and over.
    I'm doing Stoppard's suggested additional reading instead of even looking towards my stacks of books and papers. Political illuminates the personal and vice versa.

    "Every work of art is the breath of a single eternal idea breathed by God into the inner life of the artist".

    "It takes wit and courage to make our way while our way is making us, with no consolation to count on but art and the summer lightning of personal happiness... but if nothing is certain, everything is possible, and that's what gives us human dignity."

    I forget how much theatre relaxes, strengthens and overwhelms most of my mind.

    At BWW's "What's hot" listings, Utopia and Jennifer Ehle have been among the top searches for many days now.

    Josie's sent in another batch of seven photos from around the Drama Desk awards in 2001 and the Evening Standard awards.

    See the rest here.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    No one say the T word

    Too late! Munkustrap of BWW writes a love letter of a review for Voyage.

    Get your tickets now. Once it wins Best Play this spring, it will be only a thing of the past.

    This is a once in a lifetime event. It's not just play - it's three part structure (yes, requiring 3 different tickets) qualifies it for an event.

    Stoppard's new play is a masterpiece. It is brilliantly and beautifully written. When you are sitting in the theatre watching this miracle unfold, you will feel like you have literally died and gone to heaven. I experienced pure awe and bliss this afternoon, and it will absolutely go down as one of my favorite theatrical experiences ever.

    The entire cast, from top to bottom, is exemplory. Pristine, even. Billy Crudup is brilliant as the well...brilliant, awkward Vissarion Belinsky. He is so strong, so solid, and just plain wonderful. David Manis is clearly still finding his way in the role, after having just replaced Easton a few nights ago. His performance is still undeniably strong - and it's only up from here. Jennifer Ehle, Josh Hamilton, David Harbour, Jason Butler Harner, Amy Irving, and Brian F. O'Byrne are each fantastic. Each of them shine and deliver strong, unwavering performances. It's quite the accomplishment. Martha Plimpton is in her finest form here. She is a miraculous little actress, and delivers a performance of sheer perfection. I was pleasantly surprised by Ethan Hawke. I thought he would come off as the "amateur" of the bunch, and I was entirely wrong. He is absolutely winning as the obnoxious, aloof, bratty Michael Bakunin. He is an excellent stage actor, and I cannot wait to see his work in the next two parts.

    The visuals will take your breath away. Brian MacDevitt's lighting is as equally brilliant and stunning as everything else. Bob Crowley and Bob Pask's sets are minimalist, but perhaps the most effective work each of them have done. Mr. Crowley, I forgive you for TARZAN. (Well, the design part.)

    Mark Bennett's original score is exciting, beautiful, and triumphant. It is the best original score written for a play I have ever heard - and one can only hope that he will land a nomination this year.

    Watching this show is like watching a sweeping, epic film. It plays like a film, it looks like a flim, and it is undeniably cinematic. Jack O'Brien should be awarded the Nobel Prize for this staging and creation - it is THAT strong and THAT brilliant.

    There were several moments during the show when I was just overwhelmed with what I was experiencing. I couldn't believe it. I do not have a single complaint or criticism about thie piece.

    I had read some background information on the show when it was first announced, and I will admit that I was very intimidated by it. This play, in the wrong hands, could be an unmitigated disaster. O'Brien always brings a friendly touch to his plays that make it all the more accessible - as he did two seasons ago with HENRY IV. He is a master at what he does, and he WILL win the Tony this year.

    Perhaps this play is not as strong as I think it is, or perhaps O'Brien's staging isn't as strong as I think it is. It doesn't matter. When the two halves mix to form this one whole, you will be so blinded by the light it emits that you will be hard pressed to find something as utterly terrific as this. It's the first, great Broadway dramatic masterpiece since ANGELS IN AMERICA.

    There's a more ambivalent, brief response to the show at A room with a view and Susan Rhoades, who attended the night of Mr Easton's collapse, found the half she saw "talky and static". Also, in the same thread as Munkustrap's review above, VeuveClicquot was "flummoxed":

    Well, since the question was "What are your thoughts," here are mine.

    This show made my head hurt.

    First of all, I LOVE Stoppard. Also, I'm a bit of a Ruskophile.

    I agree, Crudup was amazing. And the first act made me THINK.

    The second act, however, lost me. We went back seven years? Why?

    As if the whole Pushkin/Hagel philosophy lesson wasn't hard enough, we were forced to live it again?

    I'm flummoxed by this play. I'm an intelligent, well-educated person. And I love Stoppard. I think he's a genius.

    But the second act of "The Voyage" lost me.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of it. I get what he's trying to say. I understand the broad strokes.

    But seriously, he pushed me too far as an author. Setting the second act of "The Voyage" back in time, as he did, made the whole thing too difficult to understand. I barely got to know the characters is the first act, and I think pushing ahead in a chronological manner would have benefitted the piece.

    And another NY Times reader review as well:

    A "Must See" Performance, October 21, 2006
    Reviewer: mimihyde
    Billy Crudup is...well..."amazing" can't get close to describing his performance... Stoppard wrote his character exceedingly well, but to see a great character in the hands of this inventive, unique, brilliant, instinctive, yet technically masterful actor...Wow! ...Just Wow! If you, the reader, are an actor, you've got to see this performance.

    More from Friday's show

    Nice and long report from mabel of BWW.

    I saw the show as well last night. Just beautiful. I was sitting next to Veuve, and at intermission he asked me how I was liking and then the biggie "why?". For me, on a first viewing, it was a show that just evoked a sort of visceral response, and while I was totally swept up by the piece, I couldn't quite articulate why. I suppose that's a big part of why I was so taken by it. Stoppard's work is just so rich. There's so much to dig into. I can't wait to go back and re-read Voyage ...
    A few other random thoughts...The opening was just stunning. I won't ruin it for those who haven't seen it yet, but what a way to start the show out with a visual punch!

    The lighting was gorgeous. It'll be interesting to see Shipwreck and Salvage, as there are seperate designers for each piece. I'm sure they'll all fit together seamlessly, but it would be an interesting thing to take note of, for those going to the marathons.
    Plimpton and Ehle were wonderful, though I wasn't as thrilled with Overbey and Purcell as Tatiana and Alexandra. I thought Overbey was kind of stiff and mannered...or something. I can't quite put my finger on it, but while she was fine, she didn't leave as strong an impression as Ehle and Plimpton, in particular.
    [...] [see in full]

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    "Brilliant piece of theater"

    Latest report from Voyage by WithoutATrace at BroadwayWorld:

    I'm about to go to sleep, but wanted to post a few quick thoughts on tonights performance.

    This is definitely a brilliant piece of theater. Though some parts (for me) were hard to follow due to the many many characters to keep track of and the history behind it all, the language is absolutely gorgeous and the acting is fabulous.

    Billy Crudup stole the show as Vissarion Belinsky. He owned the stage every time he was on (which was a lot) and even got exit applause after two of his long monologues. Just fantastic.

    Martha Plimpton was incredible as Varenka. I loved her in SHINING CITY last year in her small role, but in Act 1 of VOYAGE, she was really able to show that she is a fantastic actress. Such stage presence and excellent diction as well. It's hard to keep your eyes off of her when she's on stage.

    Ethan Hawke as Michael Bakunin was very good. I kind of had to warm up to him becuase his voice seemed a little off this evening...did it seem kind of raspy to any of you? Or was he doing that in character? I liked him a lot more in Act 2, but still, he was very good.

    Brian F. O'Byrne as Alexander Herzen was only in 2-3 scenes in Act 2 and did not have much to do, so I won't comment on him in VOYAGE. I'm sure he will have a much larger role in SHIPWRECK and SALVAGE.

    David Manis did a great job filling in for Richard Easton...I couldn't tell at all that he was an understudy. In fact, the play ran so smoothly, I couldn't even tell it was a preview.

    The sets are gorgeous. The set change for Act 2 actually got applause...my audience was really into it! The reason why the sets are so amazing is because of the lighting. For the most part, the sets are scrims in the background with a few tables and chairs and other props, but the lighting is some of the best I've seen on Broadway. I'm not sure how to describe it except most of this play is like looking at a work of art. Just beautiful.

    It was a very fast three hours for me and I look forward to reading some of the suggested reading list from the playbill insert and seeing SHIPWRECK and SALVAGE over the next few months.

    Two NYT reader reviews are also up, both giving the show five stars.

    Thrilling Stuff Here, October 20, 2006
    Reviewer: shmenkie
    Billy Crudup's performance alone is amazing enough to haunt one for days. Mr. Hawke is also great and the scenes with the two of them are as real as it gets. This rich production transports you far from the theater and plunges you into the ever entralling drama that is the history of Russia. Get your tickets now, they won't last long.

    Sailor's Delight, October 19, 2006
    Reviewer: daniel7353
    This first installment of Stoppard's trilogy sets sail with flawless mastery on every level. Technically, this is a magic show filled with slight of hand, a Disneyland of sorts for the eye and mind. This play is a milestone in theatre history, if for no other reason the sheer scope of the material presented in a concise and entertaining way. They'll have to dig up Cecil B. DeMille to do the film version! Perhaps it isn't fair to single out an actor from this this stellar cast, but I have to mention Billy Crudup. An actor known for dramatic roles in Pillowman, Elephant Man, and Arcadia now shows us something new as a source of comic relief. His character is at once nervous and shy, akward even, but at the same time strong and determined. Belinsky (Cruddup) is the only member of this group of intellectuals not born to the nobility, the only one limited to reading and speaking Russian. His contemporaries brag of fluency in five languages, especially French. He is an outsider brought into this golden circle where by rights he doesn't belong. These contradictions are artfully nuanced by Crudup, putting the personal beliefs, resolves and actions of the audience under the microscope. The connection the audience feels for their surrogate on stage is proven by applause after Crudup's first monologue. This is a show to be seen more than once, a diamond to be held in various sources of light.

    You can read the latest on Richard Easton's condition in the NY Post. Turns out it was a heart arrhythmia. Also, the LCT site now has biographies of all the cast members.

    Alpha Male DVD pre-orders

    The Alpha Male DVD is due to be released on 22 January, 2007. Pre-orders are available now. Also, word from Verve is that Alpha Male is eligible for the 2007 BAFTAs and so will be considered. Emma is hoping for an Oscar/BAFTA nod for Ms Ehle in the film.

    By the way, we've set up a couple of Amazon affilate stores for the UK and US.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    LCT blog updated

    At last. They've just set up a comments function as well.

    First Night Jitters
    Posted October 18, 2006

    An actress friend of mine once told me that she threw up before every performance, a statement I took as exaggerated until I walked in on her once just before curtain. It turned out she wasn't kidding. I have no idea whether any cast members of The Coast of Utopia engage in a similar practice, and of course I wouldn't, even in a backstage blog, broadcast that fact even if I did know. I mention my friend simply to indicate that actors must find ways to deal with their nerves, and that, in my experience, the better the actor the more likely that nerves play a part in the performance.

    Last night, at the first preview of Voyage, there was plenty of nervousness, and at a cast and crew supper at O'Neals restaurant after the curtain rang down, David Manis, who plays the senior serf Semyon, asked me if I'd noticed it. I have to confess that, except from an occasional hand tremor on the part of one to-be-kept-nameless actor during a party scene, I hadn't. This is a demonstration of what I said just a minute ago: good actors - and this company is loaded with them - find a way to use their adrenalin. Were I a director, I'd worry much less about the presence of nerves than about their absence. And, to be honest, it would be barking mad to think the first performance could have come off without a lot of nervousness in the house. Even in previews, where things will be constantly adjusted, one can't help secretly fretting about a thousand things: What if the latest tech cues don't come off? What if the musical underscoring for a certain scene is too muted? What if an actress trips on her skirt? And, the biggest unknown when you're emerging from the rehearsal room, what if the audience never ever laughs? Even in a play about Hegel, you don't want people to sit on their hands! (For some reason, I always think about Hegel whenever I hear the old joke that goes, "What's the shortest book ever written?" "The Anthology of German Humor.") Luckily, the play is about Russians, who, unlike Hegel, tend to have an acute sense of irony. Judging from the laughter in the house, the first-preview audience did, too.

    I suspect that the play's Alexander Herzen, Brían F. O'Byrne, has the sanest solution for nerves, at least this week: instead of fearing he'll forget his lines, he's worrying whether the Mets will win. Even if they don't, I have to confess how relieved I am that he's rooting for the guys who play at Shea. Herzen spent his life battling tyranny. The idea that the actor playing him could root for an Evil Empire based in the Bronx simply wouldn't be…real.

    Lincoln Center Theater Review

    Again a case of good news/bad news. The good: the fall 2006 issue of the Lincoln Center Theater Review is entirely dedicated to The Coast of Utopia. There are articles by Tom Stoppard, various scholars and writers, plus an excerpt of Turgenev. Nerdilicious, no? The bad news is that so far, only the text of the first article can be read (Stoppard on Isaiah Berlin); the other tantalising links go to blank pages. Edit: we jumped the gun a bit; the webmaster says that the site's temporarily live for testing and should be fully functional by the end of the day.

    Another BWW forumer, NYadgal, just returned from tonight's preview of Voyage. She says that the show's an "extraordinary piece of theatre" in remarkable shape for the third preview despite a few technical glitches, that Mr Easton's stand-in did a wonderful job, and that Billy Crudup's perf was masterful. Also of interest is the list of background reading she excerpts from the Playbill:

    'Russian Thinkers' by Isaiah Berlin
    'The Romantic Exiles' by Edward Hallett (E.H.) Carr
    'Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia' by Orlando Figes
    'My Past and Thoughts' by Alexander Herzen
    'Indiana' by George Sand
    'A Sportsman's Sketches' by Ivan Turgenev
    'Fathers and Sons' by Ivan Turgenev

    Update on Richard Easton

    The Canadian Press reports a recovery.
    NEW YORK (AP) - The Tony-award winning actor Richard Easton was recuperating at a hospital Thursday after he collapsed on stage during a preview performance of the Broadway play "The Coast of Utopia."

    The Montreal-born actor, 73, fainted Wednesday at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater while making a dramatic exit near the end of the first act of Tom Stoppard's 2002 trilogy.

    The show was halted as Easton's co-star, Ethan Hawke, asked for help from any doctors in the audience.

    Easton was hospitalized, but appeared to recover quickly, said the theatre's spokesman, Philip Rinaldi.

    Joe Pye

    And thanks to "L" in the tagboard... at Press 53, there's a photo of John Ehle with Jennifer Ehle's dog, Joe Pye! On the same site, there's an audio interview with him, which is interesting.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006


    Update: yesterday the news broke at All That Chat that Richard Easton had collapsed onstage during the Oct 18 preview of Voyage. See here and BWW forum for initial responses. Later word from the NYT is that it was a "cardiac event" (not a heart attack - BWW) and that he is conscious and stable. Understudy David Manis will play his role until his return. We wish Mr Easton a speedy recovery! By now there is wide coverage of this event.

    Smartful Dodger at BroadwayWorld gives Voyage a thumbs-up:

    Saw last night's preview. A solid production, even right out of the gate. Recognizing that Stoppard is often better read than performed AND that it was a first preview, I'll forgive some of the pacing issues; I'm sure things will get tighter as the show seasons in coming weeks.

    There are some extraordinary bits of stagecraft, which I won't spoil; and, given that this is an epic story, the necessary "turntable" and "projection" elements are there and nicely used, creating some brilliant cinematic transitions.

    The one performance to note is Billy Crudup's Belinsky. Absolutely extraordinary, even if it at times degenerates into an echo of Brad Pitt's schizoid character in 12 MONKEYS.

    He also has this advice:
    Stoppard contructs much of the dialogue among the Bakunin family, Balinsky, Herzen, and others off the ideas explored by the German and French, so I'd also get a sense of Hegel and Sand for context in this first installment. Otherwise, much of the wit in the conversations will be lost -- most of last night's audience missed some wonderfully humorous nuances in argument.

    Cameron from Talkin' Broadway's All That Chat gives a similar appraisal (and some spoilers, beware):

    Very solid overall, IMO, and in good shape for a first preview. Visually, it was one of the most beautiful sets I've ever seen. The effects of having actual falling leaves, a carriage-like wagon onstage and a miniature replica of a Moscow palace onstage were stunning.

    The performances, for the most part, were first-rate. Billy Crudup, Martha Plimpton and especially Jennifer Ehle (who broke my heart throughout the night with an intensely real performance) were the standouts for me. Ethan Hawke and Richard Easton, as a bickering son and father, were also top-notch. Josh Hamilton, Brian O'Byrne and Jason Butler Harner do not have big parts in this part of the trilogy, but what I saw of them I liked. I had a hard time hearing Amy Irving and Kellie Overbey (I saw sixth row center, too). David Harbour was the weak link in my opinion; I couldn't stand his manic interpretation.

    Overall, I really would highly recommend this and will probably see it again. I look forward to Shipwreck and Salvage.

    Thanks to Rocco for the tip!

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Buckle up

    Here we go. The first reports from The Coast of Utopia are out! Voyage inspired Gwen to write her first ever blog post:

    I just came home from seeing the first in Tom Stoppard's COAST OF UTOPIA trilogy, The Voyage Out. I expected to like it; what I did not expect was to be so moved by it. I can't find the right metaphor to explain how the play affected me-- each one I try sounds like something icky. Infection. Parasite. Crawled under my skin. Why aren't there pleasant words in the English language to describe the experience of being possessed by a work of art?

    I hadn't read it, although I'd owned a copy of the first play since it debuted in London a few years ago-- my assistant at ASF went to London and raved about it, too. Still, I remembered that although I'd loved Invention of Love, it didn't read all that well, so I decided just to wait.

    I didn't even do any "prep" about the period, or even read the many essays up at the Lincoln Center page.

    You really don't need to.
    The best thing you can do to prepare for this show is to get nostalgic about your college days.
    I just got back from a college reunion so that part was easy.
    The play isn't about school, but the characters in it are young and enthralled with ideas-- specifically with philosophy. They debate with enthusiasm and exuberance. They want to change the world. They hurt without meaning to, harm without waking up, they accomplish great feats almost by default, and they talk, talk, talk.

    But Stoppard doesn't condescend to them-- nor does he glamorize them. The tone is affectionate and a little wry. The mood of the play by the second act is a bit elegaic, like the great Pushkin poem "Eugene Onegin" alluded to early in the play.

    Did I mention the play takes place in the 1830s? This is NOT Anastasia-revolution era. But the writing's already on the wall. While the youngsters debate whether reality begins when you sit on a chair, or whether the chair is always there, the serfs beg not to be conscripted into the army, and get a slap for their servility. And young Bakunin, idealistic, self-absorbed Bakunin, has never even realized that his father's estate with its 500 "souls" (i.e., serfs) is an agricultural enterprise.

    What really startled me is how, particularly in the second act, Stoppard captured the essence of the women's lives-- Bakunin's sisters who idolize him and absorb his philosophy, not always a good thing. In Act One, we see the women as golden-haired, bright, amusing characters, primarily. In Act Two, we see how much of their lives is surrounded by silence and stillness, as they wait-- for love returned, for understanding, for life to begin. In that respect, they really are like the silent scarecrow serfs standing behind the scrim.

    One scene that really hit home to me was a scene in which Tatyana speaks to Turgenev at a dance. We've seen them earlier together, enjoying one another's company. The dance takes place some time later and we gather that she's written him letters-- if not love letters, than letters that demonstrate her love-- and that she's had little, if any, return. And yet she expresses, along with her embarrassment, her lack of regret because the time when she was in love with him she was so vividly alive, so elated (I paraphrase).

    Anybody experience unrequited love when young? anybody kind of enjoy the misery? well, I have, and did. And I thought the insight was extraordinary.

    Yeah, sure, it's Stoppard, so it may seem "talky." Big things happen offstage (but isn't that always the way?). It's epic-- and divided in acts not by time but by space. But that turns out to make perfect sense-- at least to me. I realized when I visited Stanford how memories of mine just live there, in the red tiles, sandstone, and smell of Eucalyptus.

    The plot is not linear, and the main action is not simple-- which only proves that much of the playwriting methods we teach are at best limited. But I guess for most of us "don't try this at home" is still good advice.

    In any case-- it was, for me, inspiring.

    (and it inspired me to my first blog. So there!)

    Markaley also saw it:

    And tonight I saw the first part of Tom Stoppard's trilogy, The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center. It was very dense and long, cause that's how Stoppard does, but also very entertaining and good. Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup were in it, among many others. I'm seeing part two and February and if I have time I'll hopefully see part three sometime around then as well.

    Diehard Stoppard fan Tom Oldham hasn't seen the show yet, but he's dead excited:

    Tonight was the first preview for the U.S. premiere of the first part of his 2002 trilogy "The Coast of Utopia." (I am writing my thesis on it as well.) I don't know how to stress just how big a deal this is. A major major theatre (Lincoln Center) is devoting six months to the trilogy, which (when performed in its entirety) is about 9 hours long. It features over 40 actors (which is huge) including famous movie stars like Billy Crudup and Ethan Hawke. Again, big big deal. Now, I did not go to see the show tonight. I am waiting for its official opening on November 5. I will probably say more about that when the time comes.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Bring on tomorrow

    Voyage previews start tomorrow, October 17! Meanwhile, there's another review of the Pride and Prejudice collector's edition at DVDfile:

    The Video: How Does The Disc Look?
    First and foremost, this is the same set of transfers that appeared on the previously released DVD edition of Pride & Prejudice. The only improvement is that A&E excised the closing credits for each episode, creating a significantly more impressive overall flow. But some major color accuracy issues remain. Saturated greens and blues are hard to find. Everything seems to have been constrained toward the middle of the visual range. And grain is more visible than it should be. A questionable effort.

    The Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?
    As is the case with virtually every BBC DVD release, the stereo mix is not important at all. Dialogue sounds fairly strong and every once in a while, like during the dancing sequences and outdoor scenes, there are fits and spurts of atmospherics and sound effects in the soundscape. But for the most part, this is a by-the-book, simplistic TV-grade mix.

    Supplements: What Goodies Are There?
    This release imports some extras from the miniseries’ first DVD release. Pride and Prejudice comes with a standard-grade half-hour featurette documenting the more crew-oriented aspects of production, some text information on Jane Austen, and some cast and crew filmographies.

    But new to this anniversary edition is a third disc, one that includes the Jane Austen episode of A&E’s Biography (truth be told, this is pretty standard fare at best), and a 10-year anniversary documentary featuring many of the behind-the-camera collaborators on the project. The drag of this doc is that the principal actors are nowhere to be found, and without their input as to how this project influenced their lives and careers, it’s understandable that most viewers will be left wanting much, much more.

    Also included is the already-available book The Making of Pride & Prejudice, which offers some wonderful photographs and incisive looks into the construction of this immensely popular saga.
    Final Thoughts
    As a miniseries, this version of Pride & Prejudice is not to be missed. It could very well be the great miniseries in the history of the BBC. And while this deliciously large 10th Anniversary Edition is a wonder to enjoy, it’s difficult to recommend an upgrade for those who already own this miniseries on DVD. But if you love Jane Austen and haven’t bought this BBC miniseries yet, I highly recommend this newer release.

    In the NY Post, Mark Yam previews The Coast of Utopia and gets this advice about the marathon days:

    "Dress in layers," says Shuttleworth. "You never know how comfortable or not you're going to be as the hours move on. Don't come kitted out in the kind of wear that will lead you to give yourself a wedgie - it could take a couple of hours for you to liberate that."

    "You might find yourself drifting off," Shuttleworth warns. "You need some kind of mechanism to maintain consciousness - I favor extremely strong mints."

    "Anything methane-rich in its by-products is to be avoided," he cautions. "One doesn't want to generate a pungent microclimate in an enclosed space."

    Nice. A couple of responses to the NYT article: at Maroon Voices, Ethan Stanislawski is heartened by the success of the casting process, while UPI previews the show and misquotes the NYT.

    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    Nothing to see here, officer

    These are not vids of the Lasting Impressions and An Impromptu Walkabout extras from the Pride and Prejudice boxset. And these are not the direct links to said videos (rather large filesize). Perish the thought.

    And here's the full text* of the NYT article on The Coast of Utopia mentioned below. Quotage from Ms Ehle:

    As each actor agreed, others followed. Mr. O’Brien got just about everyone he asked for, including Billy Crudup, Martha Plimpton, David Harbour, Richard Easton, Josh Hamilton and Jennifer Ehle, who is playing three different roles in the plays. (“At first, until I saw the schedule,” she said, “I thought that it was really inconceivable that I could do this.”) [more]

    Philip Boroff of Bloomberg previews Voyage:

    Previews begin next week at the Vivian Beaumont for the first installment of Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia," a prestige Broadway production with this season's most daunting running time.

    The trilogy, 8 1/2 hours in all, has a cast of 44, including Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke, Brian F. O'Byrne and Amy Irving. The director is Jack O'Brien, an experienced Stoppard hand who also staged "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Henry IV."

    The three parts cover three decades in the lives of Russian intellectuals and philosophers, including Vissarion Belinsky (Crudup), Alexander Herzen (O'Byrne), Michael Bakunin (Hawke), and Ivan Turgenev (Jason Butler Harner).

    Bernard Gersten, Lincoln Center Theater's executive producer, promises that the plays are accessible.

    "It's about real Russian people," he said in an interview. "We hope they spring to vivid life."

    "Utopia" was first mounted in 2002 at London's National Theatre. Stoppard was still writing part three, "Salvage," as director Trevor Nunn staged part one, "Voyage." O'Brien, who previously staged Lincoln Center Theater's brilliant productions of Stoppard's "Hapgood" and "The Invention of Love," -- was in the audience.

    "I felt that I was seeing this great, awkward, monster novel drunkenly move across the stage," he said in an interview posted on Lincoln Center Theater's Web site. "No one knew what they had birthed until long after the event was over."

    Stoppard has since trimmed and tinkered with the trilogy. "It's like a loaf of bread that has had time to rise," Gersten said. "We assume it will work to the benefit of the play."

    Broadway has not always been hospitable to serious plays of late, and so those in search of them have already bought up most of the good seats for `Utopia.' There are about 27,000 tickets left for the three shows, almost a quarter of the total.

    Yet even if every seat sells, the company expects to lose about $7 million on the three-part production. Gersten said it's art for art's sake...and, if all goes well, art for Tonys' sake, too.

    "You win awards, you take pride" he said. "The board is proud. The actors are proud. Everything isn't measured in money."

    Yowser, who knew non-profit was literal. Also, there's a newly minted Coast of Utopia Livejournal community, with a few wallpapers based on the Vanity Fair photo.

    At eBay, a couple of interesting items: an agency headshot from Paradise Road and The Real Thing Playbill autographed by both Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane.

    *PS. Here's the legal version of the NYT article.

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    Behind Utopia

    Bad news: Campbell Robertson's NYT article on The Coast of Utopia titled "Stoppard's New Math: 41 Actors, Half a Year, 3 Plays" is only available to paid subscribers of Times Select. There is a free 14 day trial that requires credit card details.

    Good news: the slide show accompanying the feature is free! There are eight photos.

    Click to biggen.

    Too good not to share

    These are circa Bedrooms and Hallways and The Camomile Lawn; the last couple are from the 1992 Radio Times awards. Click to enlarge. As always, a zillion thanks to Josie of A Spacey Genius! She's contributed about 150 photos altogether, what a legend.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    John Ehle and Harper Lee

    This article was really interesting. Again about Harper Lee's soft spot for John Ehle.

    LEWISVILLE — It's only seven sentences, this letter of hard-to-read scrawl that leans hard right and includes great words like "ineluctable" and "snailness."

    But it's a letter that made Kevin Watson blurt out two words I can't write in any newspaper. Unfettered excitement does that to you. And why not? It's not every day you get a letter from Harper Lee.

    You may remember Lee from your lit-class days. She's the Alabama native who wrote "To Kill A Mockingbird," a 1960 book one of my old tweed-coat professors constantly called the greatest novel of the 20th century.

    Since then, she's published nothing. She's now 80, living in New York. And, in a stranger-than-fiction twist, she's turned into a real version of Boo Radley, the famous shut-in from her book that many fans have learned to love.

    Yet, she wrote Watson's partner, Sheryl Monks, at Press 53, a tiny publishing company in Lewisville. All it took was one phone call and the mere mention of a Winston-Salem writer Lee knows simply as "John."
    That's John Ehle (pronounced EEL-ee). At 79, he's an award-winning writer with a crowd of admirers. In 1964, he wrote "The Land Breakers," a historical novel set in 18th century western North Carolina that's been out of print for decades — until now.

    Earlier this year, Press 53 convinced Ehle to choose their two-person shop over several other publishers. And when they did, Watson and Monks, knew they needed a few blurbs to help plug the book. Then came the lunch they'll never forget.

    "You know, John," Watson told Ehle, "the reason we're publishing your book is because it's as good as 'To Kill A Mockingbird.'"
    Ehle gave Watson a quizzical look, like he was trying to recall something familiar from so long ago.

    "I used to know a Harper Lee a hundred damn years ago," he replied.
    "Well," Monks said, "it would be great to get Harper Lee to write a blurb for your book."

    Right then, Ehle pulled from his coat pocket two worn address books, held together by a single rubber band. Monks and Watson were dumbfounded. They had stumbled onto the literary equivalent of the Holy Grail.

    "I was just drooling," Monks said the other day from her small attic office. "He had talked about sharing the same agent as Tom Wolfe and he pulled out this little book with Harper Lee's phone number in it and I thought 'Holy (expletive), what else is in that book? How much would that get on eBay?'"

    First, the number. Then, the phone call. Monks was scared to death.
    She rehearsed her conversation before she dialed the number. When Lee answered, she was guarded at first. But once she heard Ehle's name, she relaxed and asked in a casual voice, "How is John?"
    "There's no six degrees of separation with John Ehle," Watson said. "It's one or two at the most. He's one or two steps from anyone in the world."

    Press 53 is all Watson, a 50-year-old Salem College grad who quotes Kurt Vonnegut and calls himself a "proud Salem sister.'' He once wrote country songs in Nashville. He now searches for thought-provoking stories with a company he named after his favorite lucky number.

    He started Press 53 a year ago. After a conversation in his Ford pickup, he brought on Monks as a partner, and the two scour the South — and elsewhere — for the best in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
    Watson champions the short story, the forgotten sibling of literature. He's even told Monks he wants to pass on novels unless they're as good as "To Kill A Mockingbird," one of his favorites.

    And maybe "The Land Breakers" is. It was selected for Winston-Salem's community reading program known as On The Same Page earlier this year.

    And it got plugs from such well-known Southern scribes as Robert Morgan and Ron Rash. And there is that Lee factor. You know, she ain't no slouch.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Film updates

  • A mention in an Entertainment Weekly article about Hollywood vs women, by Christine Spines.

    6 Studio executives, please clip and save: Eileen Atkins. Maria Bello. Jennifer Coolidge. Frances Conroy. Penélope Cruz. Zooey Deschanel. Jennifer Ehle. Vera Farmiga. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Bryce Dallas Howard. Ashley Judd. Regina King. Lisa Kudrow. Rachel McAdams. Catherine O'Hara. Lupe Ontiveros. Tilda Swinton. Evan Rachel Wood. Michelle Yeoh.

    There's not an Oscar nominee on the above list. In other words, the talent pool is deep, diverse, and appallingly underused. So stretch your imaginations, lengthen your casting lists, and, unless you're looking for red-carpet arm candy, stop worrying so much about who looks ''hot.''

  • A rather belated review of Macbeth at The Komisar Scoop:

    The set at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is filled with debris and metal, the detritus of destruction, a junkyard. Soldiers are in camouflage; officers show bloody wounds. The weird sisters are in modern dress and do not seem crazy.

    In this Public Theater version, directed by Moises Kaufman, Liev Schreiber as Macbeth and Jennifer Ehle as his wife are more richly nuanced than the traditional cardboard power couple. Indeed, they are very sexual beings, a fact emphasized by Ehle in her slinky gowns. Lady Macbeth is manipulative, but no more neurotic than your normal wife-on-the-make, till the final breakdown.

    Macbeth seems less a tyrant than a man who fervently believes in his own right and destiny to rule. Not very different from others who share that sense of their “vocation.” Of course, he’s a stand-in for Bush. The couple’s plotting to take power appears cool and calculated and could have been organized by Carl Rove.

    When murdered King Malcolm’s son declares that he thinks his country is struggling “beneath a yoke,” there’s no doubt which country is meant. And when the troops pass through the real trees in Central Park to come onto the stage, it’s not hard to imagine a metaphor for a modern populace rising against repressive rule. (Or didn’t you know that the Bush administration and Congress have repealed habeas corpus?)

  • The Clooney Project has collated all of actor Jason Strong's blog posts about his experience shooting Michael Clayton. Here's a taste:

    we were shooting the deposition scene with tom wilkinson. as we wait another ad takes our breakfast order. soon after we're called in for hair and make-up, they didn't have to do much with my hair, go figure....then back to holding for coffee, food and hanging out with the director, tony. he tells us what sparked his interest in writing this story.

    the long and short of it: a huge company is fughting this civil suit for years, case is about to end when some rookie lawyer finds this document as they clean out one of the storage rooms. this document, if it becomes known, will destory the company and the firm. document never sees the light of day, and that was the first time in the history of the firm that a second-year associate ever made partner. true story.

    Plus there are some positive but undetailed reports from Ferreson and Chelsea Spaulding, who got to see preview screenings of the movie.

  • Bollywood Online interviews Rahul Bose about Road to the Sky.

    Rahul Bose who also dabbles in films like 15 Park Avenue and a fun film like Pyar Ke Side Effects is now working on an American film which is being directed by Santosh Sivan.

    The film is called Road to the Sky and being produced by an American company called Echo Lake Productions along with Adirondack Pictures and Santosh Sivan Productions of India. An Israeli story has been painted in Indian colours and presented. The film is based in the pre-independence days in Kerala. “It is the story of a British planter (Linus Roache) and a Malayali boy.” The foreign producers were keen on the film being shot in South Africa or Brazil but Santosh insisted on Munnar as he felt it was one of those hill stations in Kerala that retain an old-world charm.

    Bose further tells the story. “This British planter has a tea plant and he thinks of an idea by which he wants to export all the spices abroad. The idea he has is to start a spice route. I belong to the same district and am the son of the Sarpanch of a village. I am a villager, but can speak English well,” says Bose. The film also co-stars British actors Linus Roache and Jennifer Ehle. The film explores the relationship between the planter, his wife (Jennifer Ehle), his lover (Nandita Das) and his aide. Finally, Rahul’s character understands that he has to make a choice and that it is not quite possible to live in two worlds.

    But Sivan was the inspiration for Bose to sign the film. “I like working with Sivan because he is a very instinctive artiste. If you get into things like rationalisation with him like asking him why a particular shot is being taken or why a particular scene is being shot, he is at a loss of words. But at the same time if you can tune into the fact that his thoughts are lateral then it’s a huge pleasure working with him,” says Bose.

    Though the film is based in 1937, Rahul does not prefer calling the movie as a period film. The film has been shot in picturesque Munnar and has reached the post production stages.

    The Road to Sky will premiere at film festivals and will hit the Indian marquee after a while.
  • Monday, October 09, 2006

    Lizzy's dresses and possible Michael Clayton release date

    Ace Showbiz reports that Michael Clayton is due for release on September 14, 2007. I can't attest to the truthfulness of that though.

    I thought this was cute: a reproduction of Lizzy Bennet's (Jennifer Ehle's favourite) red dress for a doll. And, the white dress.

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    One minute left to Sunday

    First up, there's a review of Possession at Book/DVD Guzzler. Nothing Ehle-specific, but it's generally enthused. Second, there are not one but two posts up at Martha Plimpton's blog, from the pre-tech runthrough and tech rehearsal. She's hugely excited and the show sounds super duper cool. So whip out your credit cards and remember to report back!

    Hold on, there's more. Gotham Magazine interviews Billy Crudup, who gets points for saying "discombobulating" in a sentence.

    G: Well, your moustache looks great. How are people reacting to it?
    BC: It’s for the play. All of my friends are giving me tons of shit, which is totally understandable. And people I’ve never met before are thinking of me as the “moustache guy.” It comes in red… it’s awkward all around. If I weren’t playing a character who needed an awkward moustache, it wouldn’t be there.

    G: How long will The Coast of Utopia run?
    BC: Six-months. The performance schedule is incredibly complex. It’s a trilogy: Once we finish rehearsing the first play and put it up, we perform it for a month, then start rehearsals during the day for the next play. After a month of that, we have four performances of the first play, two performances of the second, and gradually build up to where we’re alternating. Eventually, we’ll be performing the first two plays and rehearsing the third during the day.

    G: That’s a lot….
    BC: Then we have a couple of days when we do all three in a row.

    G: Isn’t that an extremely intimidating concept to tackle?
    BC: Actors get so few opportunities to do something ballsy, and all the actors involved are excited about the prospect of this kind of marathon. There are only three Saturdays in February when we do all three, and I’m only in the first two. So, comparatively speaking, The Pillowman—which was only two and a half hours long—was much more difficult for me.

    G: How is the New York theater community going to fare, committing to nine hours of Stoppard in Russia?
    BC: Right now we’ve got people spending 24 hours just to see three hours of Brecht [the playwright’s Mother Courage, in Central Park]. Now, we don’t have Meryl Streep, for there’s only one Meryl Streep, but I suspect there are enough theater geeks in New York and the tri-state area to fill up three days’ worth of shows. There are the fans of Russian literature, fans of live theater, fans of Stoppard, and then all of those people who want to say they saw it.

    G: Did you see the London production?
    BC: No, I didn’t get over there for it.

    G: Well, you didn’t know you had to.
    BC: Exactly. And, actually, had I known I was going to do the play, I probably still wouldn’t have gone and seen it, because you can’t help but be influenced by another performance. For something like this, when I’m the second person playing the part, I don’t want to have a context. It’s different when playing Hamlet or Othello, when context is really important. For newer plays, I don’t see the benefit.

    G: This is your opportunity to put a stamp on it.
    BC: The director, Jack O’Brien, is fantastic. He did one of my favorite Tom Stoppard plays, The Invention of Love. He did such an incredible job of focusing the audience’s attention on the emotional journey of the characters. And he kept all the literary humor for the people who would enjoy it, but didn’t let it get in the way of the movement of the play—and that’s really important for the play we’re about to do now.

    G: What do you think of Stoppard?
    BC: When you’re a student, studying acting, you study the great actors [and writers]… and one of the great contemporary writers is Stoppard. You can’t avoid him. And, sentimentally, the first big production I was a part of in New York was Arcadia, and he was there for it… and that play really launched my career. I have an enormous amount of gratitude for that part he wrote. [more]

    Also there's a bit from Tom Stoppard at the New Yorker Festival via New Yorkology:

    "I've done quite a lot to the text," he said.

    "It's my first chance to react to the play and do what I would have done if I wasn't up against it all the time," Stoppard said. "There was never a time to step back."

    "'The Coast of Utopia,' which I used to refer to as my nine-hour Russian Trilogy," Stoppard said. "I now refer to it as my eight-and-a-half-hour Russian Trilogy -- pass it on."

    Found a site with audition "sides" for Utopia which are possibly from the revised script (judging from the "US" suffix after some characters). Payment required though. Oh and for something completely random, there's a review of Pride and Prejudice en français.

    Tout était réuni pour faire une adaptation réussie. Tout d'abord, le choix des acteurs. Colin Firth est imbattable en gentleman aussi élégant que fier et hautain. Il possède le style idéal pour se faire à la fois haïr et respecter par la "vive et ironique" Elizabeth Bennet. Cette dernière est jouée par Jennifer Ehle, qui parvient à transcrire avec beaucoup de justesse le mépris profond mais toujours contrôlé (en public du moins) que lui inspire Mr Darcy.

    Meanwhile, we're recruiting for a third blog editor. Yours truly will be away for exams and travel rather soon, so seriously, if you're interested, pretty please drop off an email to jenniferehle@gmail.com. It's not rocket science and you need only commit to 2-3 days a week. An extra hand on board for The Coast of Utopia coverage would be muchly appreciated.