Apparently the law of trilogies is as true for Tom Stoppard as it was for George Lucas and Peter Jackson: Second parts kick butt. [...]
The febrile, talky caricatures that Stoppard and director Jack O’Brien piled onstage in Voyage are finally standing up and demanding attention. The marital woes of Herzen and his metaphysically unhappy wife (Jennifer Ehle, shrewd and glowing) are quite compelling, as are the political and cultural agendas of playboy-anarchist Michael Bakunin (the perfectly cast Ethan Hawke), Slavophilic literary critic Vissarion Belinsky (Billy Crudup, unrecognizably homely) and moderate novelist Ivan Turgenev (delicately touching Jason Butler Harner). Their heated arguments, which Stoppard renders with singular grace, humor and poignancy, continue Utopia’s grand, sympathetic critique of 19th-century philosophical reform.
Leonard Link adored Ms Ehle's Natalie:
[...] But the stars of Part II are Brian F. O'Byrne as Alexander Herzen and Jennifer Ehle as his wife Natalie, and for me Ehle really steals the show - this is a prize-worthy performance, showing an emotional range and depth that takes the breath away. Stoppard's work has a reputation for pretentious talkiness, and in truth there are some places along the way here where the characters make speeches that are a bit too didactic, but somehow the pace is not broken. By comparison to Part I, it seems that the scenes are more extended, there is more time for the pace to develop naturally. Or it may just be that, having seen Part I, one does not need as much exposition in Part II to get "into" the characters and be carried along by the story.
As before, the entire cast is wonderful, although Ms. Ehle really stands out in a special way here, and Mr. O'Byrne as Herzen really commands the stage as well. I wish there were more for Ethan Hawke to do in Part II - Bakunin is definitely an unforgettably crazy character and he plays him to the hilt, but it is largely a walk-on part in this chapter of the saga.
Anxiously awaiting Part III....
Less love chez Plum. There are also podcast audio reviews at the Journal News by Jacques le Sourd. The Wall Street Journal has a subscription-only review of Shipwreck by Terry Teachout. Here's the quotey bit.
[...] The central figure of "Shipwreck" is Alexander Herzen, commandingly played by Brian F. O'Byrne, the superlative Irish actor who created the role of Father Flynn in "Doubt." All but unknown in this country save to students of Russian literature, Herzen was that most paradoxical of figures, a skeptical revolutionary. A wealthy, well-bred intellectual who fled to Western Europe to escape the czar's censors, he arrived just in time to witness the ill-fated revolution of 1848, on whose outcome he pinned all his romantic hopes. Not only did the resulting debacle cure Herzen (temporarily) of his utopian delusions, but so did his marriage to his first cousin Natalie (played by Jennifer Ehle, who's never been better). Drunk on the same witches' brew of idealism, Natalie threw herself into an affair with Herzen's best friend, justifying it with high-minded rationalizations: "All my actions spring from the divine spirit of love, which I feel for all creation."
Jack O'Brien, the director of "The Coast of Utopia," has turned Mr. Stoppard's idea-dense play into a breathtaking cavalcade of stage pictures, all of them framed with the utmost vividness by the spare yet boldly designed sets of Bob Crowley and Scott Pask. I can imagine a simpler production, but I doubt there'll be a better one.
If we've missed anything, American Theatre Web has massive roundups for both Voyage and Shipwreck.
Give a hand to Abigail, our newest recruit! Currently in training. She's already been flying the flag at Facebook, where she started the Jennifer Ehle Appreciation Society (some photos from Jerryboree '06 there). There's also a tiny Coast of Utopia community you can join. On Myspace the Cast of Utopia group has eight cast members from the show (nope not her).
Couple more things: BWW's Katurian has a stage door photo (think we were there when this was taken), and there's a good notice for Ms Ehle's Natalie on IMDB.
PS. Forgive any double posting. Month of exile and all.