Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Saving the best til last?

Oooh, scary!
Ok, what have we today?

Brendan Lemon speaks about the first marathon, which took place last Saturday. Cast member Denis Butkus gives his opinion on how the day went, with other cast members to give their views at a later date.

The LCT Multimedia section now also has a 'view scenes from' Shipwreck video, which unless I'm much mistaken differs from the aforementioned Broadwayworld one.

Boris Kachka of New York magazine has a useful little piece entitled The Men of Utopia: Who's Who in the Cast. I know the men are more important in this instance, but how about one for the ladies perhaps?!

Review-wise, Michael Bracken of Metro New York is a little disappointed with the plot.

Edward Rothstein in the NY Times has a mixed but well-written article about Herzen, Stoppard, and even parallels between them at one point! Be sure to view the audio slide show on the left-hand side - it is only two minutes long but is a brilliant little commentary by Jack O'Brien along with photos, a few of which are previously unseen.

Meanwhile on the NY Times reader review section, 31 people have rated Salvage and have given it an average of 3.93 stars out of 5. Not bad?! That places it at number 13 out of the 31 Broadway shows currently open. (Shipwreck is at number 19; Voyage at 23.) So at least as far as NY Times readers go, it seems to be a case of saving the best til last...

Monday, February 26, 2007

She plural

From Variety's report on the Salvage opening:
Any psychiatrist could tell you that playing three major roles throughout playwright Tom Stoppard's sprawling, eight-hour play about pre-Revolutionary Russia, "Coast of Utopia," could cause schizophrenia.

Luckily, star Jennifer Ehle diagnosed herself as having split personalities before she ever joined the "Coast" cast.

"I knew that a long time ago," she said at the Feb. 18 opening night party at Ruskie Restaurant Row haunt Firebird for "Coast's" third installment, "Salvage." "You have to be to get into this profession." [...]

Terry Teachout raves about Salvage for the Wall Street Journal (sadly not online). The most verdict-y bit:

[...] On the other hand, it could be that Mr. Stoppard has written an all-but-unstageable masterpiece that my generation of playgoers will not see again in our lifetimes -- and judging by a single viewing of the complete trilogy, I think "The Coast of Utopia" might well be a masterpiece.

To be sure, Mr. Stoppard's penchant for making his plays out of the ideas of other men has led some to wonder whether he might be less a playwright than a kind of journalist -- albeit one of genius. But "The Coast of Utopia" is far more than just a brilliantly pointed primer on the historical significance of Alexander Herzen and his contemporaries. By interweaving the revolutionary notions of his characters with the mad disorder of their private lives, Mr. Stoppard has contrived to give us that rarest of plays, a pageant that has real emotional depth. I confess to wondering whether I would have been quite so impressed with "The Coast of Utopia" had I first seen it in a less memorable production, and it may also be that I responded to it so strongly because I share its author's antiutopian vision of the tragedy of modernity. But countless other viewers who feel otherwise have been no less deeply moved, suggesting that Mr. Stoppard has succeeded in transfiguring the unpromising raw material of politics and turning it into high art. [...]

And what's this, more NY Times on Utopia? Indeed; Edward Rothstein weighs in this time.

Some survival stories from the first marathon are up at All That Chat. robert_j is mixed though considers the marathon format effective, while StageStruckLad, who had been considering leaving after Voyage, was glad to have stayed til the end. Both report that Richard Easton did not perform at the marathon. whyohwhyoh isn't happy with the cast except for Mr Easton and Ms Ehle.

In blogland, lizellis is in raptures over the show and spotted a coupla famous faces in the audience, The Playgoer saw Tom Stoppard at Wallace Shawn's The Fever and RS thought Voyage "good but not great". Unrelatedly, a reciprocal shout-out to us from Philip Shaefer.

We've posted these Broadway.com videos before, but thought it might be a good idea to gather them together. Here: Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ehle: Even better?

So far, there seem to be two patterns emerging with regard to reviews of the long-awaited partie trois of The Coast of Utopia. Firstly, reviews of the last installment as a whole seem to be mixed, and secondly, wherever she is personally mentioned, Ms Ehle is highly commended.

Here are a few more exemplifications of these trends:

Irene Backalenick from All About Jewish Theatre considers Salvage the least good of the three, but implies this is just a necessary inevitability of the story's close. She is complimentary and appreciative of the trilogy overall and reserves high praise for the achievements of Stoppard and O'Brien.

Time Out's David Cote is much more negative overall. Being more descriptive than evaluative, he says:

Martha Plimpton and Jennifer Ehle offer fire and ice, respectively, as women in Herzen’s life.

Kirk Honeycutt from The Hollywood Reporter likewise holds his thumbs more down than up. He does however applaud O'Brien for his continued "striking" and "imaginative" direction.

Ordinary theatre-goers seem to be far less critical:

Utopia virgin Pitgeek considers Salvage praiseworthy and is now seriously contemplating a marathon.

The NY Times reader reviews of Salvage are unanimously laudatory. Lexical choices utilised include 'dazzling', 'superb', and 'very stirring'.

tpbland notes:

...Jennifer Ehle plays a different character from part 2 but is perhaps even better here. I did not want the evening to end--it is superb.

teresek makes no specific mention of Ms Ehle but can't throw enough nice words in Mr O'Byrne's direction:

I saw Salvage from the first row (unfortunately didn't see the first two plays) and was dazzled by the acting. Brian F. O'Byrne, in particular, was extraordinary. His performance was expressive but restrained, with nothing excessive or artificial. To watch him "age," for instance, through a subtle slump of his body, turning his head to listen, getting up stiffly from a chair -- was extraordinary. He was surrounded by other wonderful actors who gave him everything he needed to play off of. Aside from its other merits (the staging and directing are admirable), anyone who loves fine acting should see this play.

How nice! shmenkie continues the rapturous praise, considering him-/herself a better person for having witnessed this arguably once-in-a-lifetime event.

Meanwhile, sailing momentarily away from Utopia...

On the NY Times bios pages, Rebecca Flint from All Movie Guide describes Ms Ehle as

...an actress who infuses her characters with luminous strength and shrewd intelligence...

And, should you feel like perusing Ebay, you can buy a signed photo of Ms Ehle or a copy of Harpers & Queen from July 1999 which (according to the seller) has four-page feature. A Summerfolk programme is also still up for grabs.

Returning to the Lincoln, marathon numero uno is probably about mid-Shipwreck by now...fingers crossed it is all proceeding without a hitch...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Romantic exile on oil rig

AP's Mark Kennedy interviews David Harbour, Richard Easton and a certain person of interest. Was wondering how long the unscathed run would last.

[...] And since all three plays - "Voyage," "Shipwreck" and "Salvage" - are in constant rotation, rehearsal and tech periods often run between noon and 5 p.m. and then everyone must return to perform three hours later.

"My fears were that it would be like being on an offshore oil rig and it hasn't been quite like that," says Jennifer Ehle, a new mother who also has three roles. "Actually, it's like being on an offshore oil rig with my family stationed on a boat two leagues away and I have a row boat to get to them."

It promises to get even tougher: The cast and crew are to undertake all three plays in back-to-back-to-back marathons on Feb. 24, March 3, March 10, March 24, March 31, April 7, April 21, April 28 and May 5.

The sheer complexity of all the show's moving parts is made clear midway through an afternoon interview with Easton, Harbour and Ehle in Easton's tidy dressing room.

At one point, an intercom crackles to life: "Could I have everyone in the funeral on stage, please!" a voice pleads. "Everyone in the funeral on stage, please!"

Harbour, 31, and Ehle, 37, instantly look at each other, wracking their brains to remember if they're needed for this rehearsal scene of "Salvage." Easton, for his part, is calm _ and for a good reason.

"It's my funeral," he explains.

Since he's not needed, Easton has about an hour to kill until the end of the play. So what does the 79-year-old actor typically do while dead? He reads old detective novels or does crossword puzzles.

"Occasionally, people come in and talk to me, try to cheer me up," he says, laughing.

Unlike Harbour, Ehle and Easton, a few of their co-stars - Jason Butler Harner as Ivan Turgenev, Hawke as Michael Bakunin, and Brian F. O'Byrne as Alexander Herzen - keep their characters for the entire three-play run.

But don't call those guys fortunate.

"I don't think they're lucky," says Easton, who portrays Bakunin's father in the first play, a Russian diplomat in the second and a Polish nobleman in the third. "We're lucky."

"Absolutely," says Ehle, who plays, in succession, a sister of Bakunin, the wife of Herzen, and then the governess of Herzen's children.

"Three parts for the price of one," explains Easton.

The three actors insist that even though there's so much dense material - some of it overlapping in time and subject - they never get confused about which play they're in. [...]

To get into character, each actor did his or her own research. O'Byrne and Crudup read a lot of Turgenev and Herzen. Ehle read "The Romantic Exiles" by E.H. Carr. There was even a field trip to Russia undertaken by O'Byrne and other cast members. [...]

Other bits:

End of an era

Tis a sad day, losing the best partner in crime one could ever wish for. Chels, you've been the sanity of the blog, and without you this thing would've died a quiet death in 2005 already! All your fault. It's been a ball sharing the squeeful highs and angsty lows of this crazy rollercoaster with you, and a million thanks for your loyalty, support and hard yakka. This friendship has far outgrown its original fannish roots - shotgun on teaching your kids to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill!

Well, the show must go on - til June at least. More on that later.
  • The pictures above are courtesy of the LCT - their site also has some other Salvage stills. More pictures can be seen at Broadway.com's photo feature and in their video on the Salvage opening, according to Kate (ta) there's a clip of Ms Ehle as German-accented Malwida and interviewage.
  • Playbill reports from the Salvage opening night bash.
  • LCT blog updated with a post about the last opening. The LCT site also has a roundup of reviews, but nothing new there.
  • On to Salvage reviews. Peter Marks, Washington Post.
    [...] Martha Plimpton, playing a woman Herzen conveniently turns to -- even though she's married to a friend of his -- not only makes for a wonderfully impetuous life force, but also a nifty counterpoint to the severe German nanny portrayed by Jennifer Ehle. As Herzen's friend Ogarev, Josh Hamilton provides a finely nuanced account of a man with all too human weaknesses. [...]
  • Toby Zinman, Philadelphia Inquirer.
    [...] The remarkable Jennifer Ehle reappears in her third role in the trilogy, the frowning German governess, and Martha Plimpton reprises her Natasha of Shipwreck, revealing how her girlish charm has tarnished with time. [...]
  • Eric Grode, NY Sun.
    [...] Jennifer Ehle and David Harbour, who provided emotional ballast for the first two plays as two very different sets of lovers, are still around but in lesser roles. Ms. Ehle, last seen as Herzen's doomed wife, has returned in the thankless role of Malwida von Meysenbug, a stern German nanny who inveigles her way into his domestic life. (The real-life Malwida was far more interesting, the sort of galvanizing intellectual force who met Friedrich Nietszche through their mutual friend Richard Wagner.) Mr. Harbour, by contrast, is given the juicier but even smaller role of Bazarov, a proto-nihilist whose chance encounter with Turgenev spurs the writing of "Fathers and Sons." [...]
  • Elysa Gardner, USA Today.
    [...] Jennifer Ehle, Martha Plimpton, Josh Hamilton and Richard Easton shine in other roles, though Ethan Hawke, as before, emotes a little too eagerly. [...]
  • Roma Torre, NY1. Note the video content as well, in both dialup and broadband formats.
    [...] Ethan Hawke as the imprisoned anarchist Bakunin returns battered but energized. Josh Hamilton's ailing drunken Ogarev; Martha Plimpton as his unstable wife, and Jennifer Ehle who is now the upright governess, deserve special mention. [...]
  • Eric Alterman, The Nation. A piece on the significance of the trilogy.
  • At Westport Public Library this Sunday 2pm, there's a free talk entitled “Who’s Afraid of Tom Stoppard? Navigating The Coast of Utopia” delivered by Mark Schenker, associate dean at Yale College.
  • On the blogs and forums: Lady Crumpet liked Shipwreck, positive notice for "Rosemary Ehle" in Salvage at the Follies of Greg, and there's general praise of the trilogy at Future Librarian. Cajun Boy dittoes Charles Isherwood, critic David Cote of Histriomastix is mixed on the trilogy, All That Chat's rwb is less impressed by Salvage than Shipwreck. BroadwayWorld discussion continues.
  • The first marathon performance is this weekend. We wish bon courage to both the cast and audience! If you're going, we would welcome a report - write to jenniferehle@gmail.com, as per.
  • Mention of Road to the Sky in an interview with Nandita Das.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Signing Off

Hello bloggers,
Unfortunately (as you may have been able to notice with the lack of posting from my side), real life has overcome my internet life and I no longer have the luxury of continuing to contribute to the blog.

It's very sad to see this come to an end and I have made wonderful friendships through our common interests. How exciting is everything Tina started? How much of a roller-coaster ride did she take us on? That's something I'll never forget.

Thank-you Tina, for your support, friendship and kindness (that side will not end) and for starting the blog. Thanks Abi for stepping in and really carrying on the great things that have happened so far. I look forward to really meeting both of you (in person) in the future. I will still hang around the forum as much as I can, but as far as posting goes, this is the last one from me unfortunately!

So, indeed it is not goodbye, but as the french have it, "Au Revoir!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Advance copy

This is in lieu of Wednesday's post - we're reshuffling the schedule at the mo. Voila leftovers from Salvage opening.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Salvage press reviews

Aw, the last first night. BroadwayWorld folks beat us to the roundup, but here's the relevant quotage. The photo above is from Playbill which has a handful - none of our frau. Watch this post: it'll be updated as more reviews come in. Newer stuff is up top.
  • Michael Sommers, Star Ledger.
    [...] Ehle's stern yet loving governess is an oddly radiant figure. [...]
  • Malcolm Johnson, Hartford Courant.
    [...] The most telling and watchable performance in "Salvage" comes from Jennifer Ehle as the tightlipped Malwida. Having played a girlish innocent in "Voyage," and an adoring but swept-away wife in "Shipwrecked," she now reveals an iron core as the strict governess who can only watch in horror as the feckless Natasha, so extravagantly costumed by Catherine Zuber, distributes presents to the Herzen children. [...]
  • Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News.
    [...] In one story strand, he strives to launch the Free Russian Press, to give radicals a voice. In another, he deals with a complicated home that includes his children, a stern German governess (Jennifer Ehle, fabulous and unrecognizable from Parts 1 and 2), revolutionary friends and a married lover. Sometimes it smacks of "One Radical Life to Live." [...]
  • Ben Brantley, NY Times (discussed at All That Chat).
    [...] Nearly every scene is built on the impossibility of imposing order on the squirming mass of contradictions of human existence. The same evidence of dashed intentions comes across in matters domestic (in the chaotic rearing of Herzen’s children, despite a resolute German governess, played by the Jennifer Ehle) and epochal (the freeing of the serfs in Russia in 1861). [...]

    This production also lets us savor the actor’s tasty art of expert reincarnation, via performers who showed up in different roles in earlier installments. (Ms. Ehle’s obdurate governess and Richard Easton’s dying Polish count are especially memorable.) Fans of Ethan Hawke will be pleased to know that his character, the anarchist Bakunin, gets out of prison and is, if possible, even more obnoxious than before. (That’s meant as praise.) [...]
  • Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press.
    [...] When Herzen isn't agitating for freeing the serfs, he is dealing with domestic duties, trying to make sense of his family life after the death of his wife and younger son. He still has three other children to care for and into their orbit comes a stern German governess, played with crisp, Teutonic authority by a marvelous Jennifer Ehle. [...]
  • David Rooney, Variety.
    [...] O'Byrne's performance has steadily grown in stature and humanity through its accumulation of fine details, turning increasingly more introspective to shed light on the man and his alienation. As the strong-willed German governess to the widowed Herzen's children, Jennifer Ehle adds another flinty characterization to stand alongside her intelligent work as Liubov Bakunin in the first installment, "Voyage," and her luminous Natalie Herzen in "Shipwreck" -- three remarkably distinct women who share deep self-knowledge. [...]
  • Clive Barnes, NY Post.
    [...] Nor can we forget the women - Martha Plimpton, Amy Irving (like Crudup, not in "Salvage") and the extraordinary Jennifer Ehle - who together with all the rest made up a cast that represented repertory acting at its finest. [...]
  • David Finkle, TheaterMania.
    [...] The sad situation, however, is that Herzen is a plodding, dour character. In Salvage, he whiles away the latter part of his life attempting to establish a broadsheet called The Bell, while also trying to keep his children-overrun household in order. While Stoppard's idea is to show how often an influential person's private life is mundane in contrast to the public life, daily routine isn't the surefire stuff of compelling dramaturgy -- even if some of it is devoted to Herzen's passionate dalliance with Ogarev's wife Natasha (Martha Plimpton) and to spirited domestic exchanges with the children's German governess, Malwida von Meysenbug (Jennifer Ehle). [...]

    In Salvage though, Hawke finally gets away with his bellowing now that his Bukanin has turned Falstaffian, while Ehle, Harner, and especially Plimpton seem most at home in Stoppard's diffuse world. [...]
  • Matthew Murray, Talkin' Broadway.
    [...] Inextricably bound to his plans for arousing Russian serfs’ ire through nonviolent means are his own relationships, with the paternal Polish émigré, Count Stanislaw Worcell (Richard Easton), through whom Herzen works to establish free Russian and Polish presses; with his son, Sasha (played at different ages by Evan Daves and Matt Dickson); with his longtime friends and one-time schoolmates Michael Bakunin (Ethan Hawke) and Nicholas Ogarev (Josh Hamilton); and with two devastating women, his German governess Malvida von Meysenbug (Jennifer Ehle) and Nicholas’s wife, Natasha (Martha Plimpton), with whom he creates some lives and destroys still others. [...]

    Other actors, however, do some of their best work of all three plays here. Easton’s Polish count is highly persuasive as a man who knows he’s outlived his own usefulness, but who becomes crucial in Herzen’s own development; Ehle finds layer after chilly layer in the dominating yet brittle Malvida. Plimpton’s Natasha is a gorgeous rendering, smoothly acidic and comic, devoted to Nicholas and yet longing for Herzen’s more understanding arms. Plimpton makes you feel every moment of confusion, every kickback from the wounds she inflicts in Nicholas, and you respect - as you might not expect to - the choices that lead to several global and personal downfalls. [...]
  • Richard Ouzounian, Toronto Star (review of whole trilogy).

    [...] There's also astonishing work from Jennifer Ehle, who delivers three distinct and galvanizing performances, and Amy Irving, who portrays two diametrically different women. [...]

  • Michael Giltz, NY Daily News. Interview with Jack O'Brien and Ethan Hawke.
And non-press reviews:
  • Aaron Riccio has another Salvage review:
    [...] Along the way, Stoppard continues to introduce us to characters that all deserve their own plays. Billy Crudup might be missing from Salvage, but there are plenty of interesting characters to be found in Count Stanislaw Worcell (Richard Easton), the doddering but passionate voice of the past, Malwida von Meysenburg (Jennifer Ehle), the steely German governess, and once-peripheral but now-central characters like Nicholas Ogarev (Josh Hamilton), his second wife, Natasha (Martha Plimpton), and the famed writer Ivan Turgenev (Jason Butler Harner). Easton is, as always, a pleasure, and Hamilton and Harner are even more mellifluous now than they were previously. As for Ehle, playing a disciplinarian may prove to be the best move of her career. Aside from showing off her range, stripping her of her all-too-easy dramatics forces her to find a deeper strength, and the controlled chaos that she experiences in the Herzen household is wonderful to see. [...]
  • Yankeefan007 at BroadwayWorld (with discussion):
    [...] Ethan Hawke is phenominal, again, as usual, as the flamboyant and now heavily bearded and fat Bakunin. Jennifer Ehle as Malwida is appropriately restrained (I enjoyed her more as Natalia). Also wonderful are Martha Plimpton and Josh Hamilton as the Ogarevs. [...]

  • Voyage review at Where's Higgs.
  • Negative Salvage review at Mokka mit Schlag.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Utopia: An experience of life

Today's New York Times definitely advocates a visit to the LCT. Describing Utopia it says:

Unforgettable and unmissable! An experience of life as much an experience of art.

Well I think we'd agree wholeheartedly with that. (And is it me, or could that last line be straight out of the show?? Or maybe it's just Natalie's brilliant Shipwreck monologue, which includes the word 'art' five times and 'artist' twice...)

Anyway, in preparation for Sunday night, here's a little recap on part three from the Vivian Beaumont website:
Part three of the trilogy, Salvage, brings maturity and resolution. As imperial Russia is set adrift with the freeing of the serfs, Alexander Herzen and the revolutionaries in his circle look back from the vantage point of their exile in England at their dreams of overturning the tsar, at the paths taken and not, and at the Russia of their memory.

Going a little further back:

In a review of The Philadelphia Story, BBC London's Mark Shenton was largely negative, although there was a positive consolation:
What it does have, though, is the glacial beauty of Jennifer Ehle, in the role of Tracy Lord...
Meanwhile, John Simon's review for Design For Living from 2001, is also negative, but least so about Ms Ehle and Mr West:
Jennifer Ehle, despite an unflattering period hairdo, and Dominic West ... struggle valiantly but keep foundering on Alan Cumming.

Back to all things Coast-al, here is an American Theatre Wing seminar from September 2002, in which Utopia set designer Scott Pask is a panellist.

Interestingly, Scott Pask is the twin brother of Bruce Pask, who was the designer for Design For Living. The more I see of the entertainment world, the more I become convinced it is all one big family! (That last sentence reminded me of a P&P line, AGAIN!)

PS - One day to go...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Some woman

  • Enormo overview of the Coast of Utopia trilogy at Roscoe Writes with a positive mention of Jennifer Ehle in Salvage but critical overall about it. Aaron Riccio sez Salvage is a must-see. He's also got a small photo from the show, one of the first.
  • Valentines Day brought a surge of blog posts about Pride and Prejudice. Blogher reports on the mini vs movie blogwar (note the comments at Women of Colour about "some woman").
  • Report from the LCT's Platform Series Q&A with Tom Stoppard at All That Chat. Taste:
    [...] He was asked about the scene between Herzen and Bakunin at the end of Shipwreck where Herzen imagines Bakunin's presence. He said it was a matter of practicality, a device to keep Bakunin's presence active in the play even though, being imprisoned hundreds of miles away, he wouldn't be present otherwise. He noted that Billy Crudup and Amy Irving, both of whose characters die between parts two and three, had suggested some kind of dream ballet to get them into the third part (joking, of course). [...]
  • Update at the LCT blog about Onegin playing at the Met. And a digression on how Pushkin=JT. Speking of Onegin, just found the Charles Johnston translation of the poem online, it's the bomb.
  • Apparently there was a reshoot of a scene in Pride and Glory recently. (see also)
  • Need we remind you? Salvage is opening on Sunday Feb 18th.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You can never have too much Sunshine...

Here is an article by BBC Online Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook, written around the release of Sunshine. The ladies behind the character of Valerie have some nice things to say:

Ms Ehle seems to be impressed by the attitude of leading man, Ralph Fiennes:
There is no element of showing off. It would be tempting at some point when you are playing three characters to say, "Look what I can do".

Meanwhile she was able to identify with the character of Valerie in terms of her somewhat transient existence:

I had quite a rootless upbringing, so that was something just very personally that probably pushed a few buttons.

Rosemary Harris meanwhile admitted that at least part of the reason she was drawn to the role was 'because it was a chance to work with Jennifer'.

Later, when watching the finished product, Ms Harris implies she discovered some sort of a genetic imprint in terms of acting:

I was amazed when I saw the similarities we bear and which I wasn't aware of. I think its in the hand gestures or something.

Meanwhile, she describes what it was like to work with director Istvan Szabo:

Each scene I did with him felt like a master class. ... He would slowly nudge you with little taps on the nose here and there until he got what he wanted. ... Sometimes he would get it in a first take and sometimes he would go on for ten takes.

While we're on the theme, here are a few things mentioned by Ms Ehle in the DVD's special features. With regards to the script, Ms Ehle says:

I'd never read anything like it really. I loved it. I loved the story - it was incredibly unusual and not formulaic at all. I loved the script - I loved the story, the people. ... One of the things thats so wonderful about Istvan is how much he loves and respects his characters, and he treats them very humanely - not at all in a sentimental way, or patronising, just with love.

On Szabo, she says:

Istvan is so extraordinary. Whatever he knows about the script from having written it, and from the families he knows who have been through this...it's not intimidating that he has all of this inside him. He's so generous with it and he's so specific and his imagination is so rich. ... He will tell these stories that just make it all so clear. It's a wonderful experience to work with somebody who knows their subjects well.

There is clear praise in the other direction too, as Szabo explains how Ms Ehle ended up as Valerie:

I needed somebody who had a warm, charismatic smile. ... Glenn Close introduced me to Jennifer Ehle at a party... I saw her smile, and asked my casting director to invite her for a discussion, and after having done the discussion, it was clear that Jennifer should do the role.

Meanwhile, I am very intrigued by the aforementioned extra's comment about Alpha Male being filmed in a country house in Bedfordshire. I lived in that county for nine years, and would be interested to know which house it was, if anyone knows. A National Trust place perhaps? Not exactly the best county in the country (I'm a Cambs/Herts girl myself). Some places are...tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


  • The Wall Street Journal has an interview with Jack O'Brien (subscribers only). Here's a taste:

    [...] Another with three roles to juggle is Richard Easton, a friend of Mr. O'Brien's for four decades and counting, who in 1969 took direction from Mr. O'Brien in "Cock-A-Doodle Dandy," his first full-fledged Broadway directing job. "Actors trust Jack. So do designers and other technical people. He's always practical. Whatever it is, he knows how to do it, but he doesn't want to do it himself. He's funny, so there's always lots of energy in the room. He's sentimental, and he cries a lot. He's thoughtful. When rehearsals start, he basically sits and listens and watches. He has the confidence that whatever happens, he can deal with it. He uses what you bring. He never thwarts you. He's not in competition with anyone he's working with -- which is more unusual than you think." [...]

  • Theatreboy is anti-homework.
  • Russian review of Voyage and one from Sharky with bonus Stoppard-fangirling in the comments. Patrick of Recursive Bee is critical, while despite misgivings Mike thought it a good play on balance.
  • Blogger Jennifer Chang on Shipwreck (she too spotted Sally Field).
  • On the LCT site the dramaturg's notes on Salvage are up.
  • Note from an extra on Alpha Male.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Oops, Mon is me. Apologies.
  • Martha Plimpton responds to the Isherwood thing, which also caused a kerfuffle on the NY Times' letter to the editor page. (NB. To read Martha Plimpton's blog, you must be a Myspace friend of hers)
  • Famous names continue flocking to the show, according to Rachel Glickman and usher Jeff Goldstein. They spotted Sally Field, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn and Lauren Bacall.
  • Broadway Beat has video on Coast of Utopia with clips from Shipwreck and interviewage from Voyage's opening night. Ta for the tip, Pinky & Kate.
  • Reminder about the LCT Platform Series Q&A with Tom Stoppard on Feb 14th. Note that the time and date have apparently been changed.
    Lincoln Center Theater’s Platform Series continues its 2006-2007 season on Wednesday, February 14, from 5:00 to 6:15 pm at the Kaplan Penthouse (10th floor of the Rose Building, 165 West 65 Street) with a pre-performance talk with the Tony, Olivier and Oscar winning playwright, Tom Stoppard. Admission is free and open to all; however, seating is limited. Admission passes will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 4:00 at the entrance to the Rose Building.
  • Ricky Patterson has mixed views on Voyage.
  • Mike at Lunar Gemini reports on the whole trilogy. Quoth he:
    [...] The cast is consistently strong. Not surprisingly, O'Byrne has the gravitas to carry the show, but I would have gladly watched a show that centered on any of the supporting characters as well. Hawke is the perfect blend of angst and obnoxiousness as the moody, pushy Bakunin. Jennifer Ehle creates three great characters but particularly shines as Herzen's wife Natalie in the second part, "Shipwreck." Amy Irving, Martha Plimpton, Richard Easton, Billy Crudup, Patricia Conolly...all superb. [...]
  • Michael Giltz of Popsurfing seems to be interviewing some of the Utopians (Tom Stoppard, Ethan Hawke). Watch that space, I guess.
  • Bob Martin relates the "censorship > free press" issue from Utopia to the free-for-all internets.
  • Jesse21 from All That Chat makes mention of Jennifer Ehle in Salvage:
    Yeah, and was not Jennifer Ehle just great when she circled that big stage in Act 1 as her power was being usurped.
    sabra_n is critical but notes that she plays the part with a German accent. Other Utopia discussion at ATC includes some love for Josh Hamilton.
  • NYCriticsCorner has reviews of all three parts: Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage. Mentions from the latter two respectively:
    [...] It is Bryan F. O'Byrne & Jennifer Ehle (Design for Living, The Real Thing) who deserve all the glory for their performances here. Much like Billy Crudup's (who is completely underused in this second installment) tour de force in VOYAGE; O'Byrne navigates through Stoppard's words as if he just passed the S.A.T.'s with a perfect score and knows it! Matching him bit for bit is Tony winner Jennifer Ehle as Herzen's wife. Any actress who is comfortable being fully naked on stage for ten minutes, automatically scores points - but this one is breathtaking and beguiling! [...]
    [...] And Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton never ever disappoint as the trilogies female standouts. [...]
  • At BroadwayWorld Yankeefan007 agrees:
    [...] Glad you liked them. I concurr whole-heartedly about the 1st 2 parts (seeing the 3rd in a week). O'Byrne and Ehle are delivering tour-de-force performances, as are Crudup and Hawke. I wonder how the actors will be ruled at the Tony Awards. They all seem like sure-shots. [...]
  • Lastly and randomly, shoutout to us from The Beef. Merci!
You may have noticed that "bi-daily" has been dropped from the sub-heading. With three of us now on the job, in theory there should be posts every day except Tues, but we get muddled. Expect more scheduling changes later.

PS. There are cheap ($40-65) Salvage tix at All That Chat's Shoppin' section for Feb 14, 16 and 22.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"Exhilarating ride in Russian history"

Here are some excerpts from the Boston Globe:

In case you've missed the claps of thunder, there's been a storm crackling on the stage of Lincoln Center Theater this season. Passionate Russians debating the future of their country, its enslaved masses, its relationship to the West, the merits of free love, the infinite varieties of socialism. Yes, yes, we know how it all turns out, but don't say it too loudly. The year is still 1833, and the history of the 20th century has not yet been written.

Or so we begin when the curtain goes up on "The Coast of Utopia," Tom Stoppard's sweeping trilogy about a generation of brilliant Russian intellectuals, philosophers, anarchists, poets, novelists, and critics, their lives, their families, their tumultuous romances, and their fumbling through the darkness as the utopian future they're sure is around the corner shows its face far too slowly, and the present in which they live is one of failed revolution abroad and brutal dictatorship at home.

I have seen Parts I and II so far, and they have been, by and large, an exhilarating ride. These plays course with an intellectual vigor not often found in Broadway theater, and they manage, through Stoppard's particular brand of alchemy, and O'Brien's fluid direction, to turn the stuff of intellectual history seminars into a vibrant theater of ideas, to take the words and arguments of these men and women seriously, but at the same time, to wonder if any of their cultivated banter or their fusillades of political insight made one iota of difference as the gears of history ground forward.

But beyond that, "Utopia" does not entirely forget to be a human drama, and there is a deep poignancy to the plight of its genial, broad-spirited central character, the writer and theorist of revolution Alexander Herzen (played superbly by Brian O'Byrne) . Herzen is a fascinating if largely forgotten figure in Russian history, but there is an abiding resonance to his guiding ideas, his relentless optimism, and the generosity of his stance toward a broken world he was trying so desperately to fix.

It all adds up to a theatrical experience with more relevance than you might otherwise expect from 19th-century Russian history, and a sense that the stories of these figures, the contours of their unrealized visions, are worth recalling, if only for a few hours in the darkened theater. Or maybe, as was the case for me in Parts I and II, you'll find a particular line lingering in the mind long after the house lights have come up. And then there's always a chance that, despite the loud chorus of critical raves, you'll be part of the small but vocal minority for whom this play seems like one tediously long string of chatter without the trappings of a vital drama, a view voiced recently by Charles Isherwood in the New York Times.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Oprah of the Intelligentsia

Tom Stoppard's Charlie Rose interview was a little more historical than was perhaps expected, but it nonetheless included an enthralling theorization of the art of theatre. And I can't deny it's interesting to learn about the real figures that inspired these plays in the first place.

When Rose asked about the transition of a play from a story to a piece of art, Mr Stoppard pleaded with the audience not to take any notice of what he was about to say because he didn't know what he was talking about. But I don't think we should give much credence to that now, should we?! So here's what he said...

It's about the control of information from the stage to the audience. The art of it is to tell the audience so much and no more, at this moment and at no other, and in the following order and not a different order.

Much of the interview was related to discussion about the real men behind the male leads. When asked which of the characters he most liked, there was an amicable split:

I'm extremely fond of Bakunin, I always have been...and Herzen responds to the main things that I respond to.

About Bakunin specifically, Stoppard made several comments: (I like the first one...)

Bakunin went around everywhere as if he had a firework attached to the back of his trousers...he was a force of nature. He had a fantastic mixture of emotion and intellect. He was physically brave.

Herzen got similar attention:

Herzen is the moral centre of the play. I love his mind and his prose. I love what he had to say about society. I love his honesty, and his honesty about himself. ... His spirit and his heart were huge, and he was a kind man.

Stoppard also mentioned lots of (very recent!) script changes that he's made in Salvage. Most notably, he talks about one of his favourite lines, spoken by (the original) Herzen about Bakunin:

He incubated the germ of a colossal activity for which there is no demand

Stoppard describes how he took this line out of the play just the day before the interview after realising it didn't really fit the speech in which it had been located. He had just loved it so much he'd wanted to include it somewhere in the play!

Lastly, reflecting on the unparalleled demand for Isaiah Berlin's Russian Thinkers as a result of Utopia, Stoppard joked that he himself is like "the Oprah of the Intelligentsia". An apt and amusing analogy!

No clip unfortunately, but on the whole, another great Stoppard / Rose collaboration. The sixth, if I am not mistaken. Hopefully there'll be a number seven...

Meanwhile, today's New York Times has a nice little word for the trilogy. Describing the first two installments as 'exhilarating' it notes:

...these productions pulse with the dizzy, spring-green arrogance and anxiety of a new generation moving as fast as it can towards the future.

Also, YouTube has a brief Two on the Aisle video in which hosts Charles Gross and Jeff Goodman discuss Voyage. Not even remotely of Charlie Rose's calibre, but (marginally!) worth watching anyway.

Friday, February 09, 2007

More Malwida wanted

Praise at Stagestruck:
Also, I was really drawn to Jennifer Ehle's character (the German governess employed to bring up Herzen's children, and who tries vainly to manage Herzen's untidy household and domestic life); the play lost some liveliness later on due to the fact that Ehle appears only once in Act II.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stoppard in the Game of Love

Going back seven years this April, here is what Logan Hill of NY Magazine had to say at the time of The Real Thing's opening on Broadway:

...the downright passionate The Real Thing explodes some myths about the inner lives of outwardly brilliant people. The 'real thing' of this ferociously written play is, of course, that thing called love, and Henry (Stephen Dillane), the play's sarcastic protagonist, just happens to be an exceptionally witty and erudite playwright. Henry divorces his wife when he falls in love with a younger actress, Annie (Jennifer Ehle), who summarily dumps her overeager chump of a husband. As the play tracks Henry's life with Annie, the most insincere and ironic characters - especially Henry - somehow seem to be the most in touch with their feelings. In a way, Stoppard rips romance right out of the dopey clutches of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere and posts a valentine for the brainiacs. "Intellectuals are notorious for their untidy lives," Stoppard says. ... But don't look for more moonstruck Bards. Stoppard explains,"I never subscribed to the theory that plays become better as they become more emotional".
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Charlie Rose interview with Mr Stoppard should be airing at 22.30 tonight (ET). Utopia is the topic!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Zig and zag

  • Tune into Charlie Rose tonight (Wed 7) to catch his interview with Tom Stoppard. Thanks to Paula for the tip!
  • At ATC there's a review-count for Shipwreck:
    12 pro
    New Yorker, Post, Times, Time Out, Daily News, USA Today, AP, New York Mag., Newhouse, WSJ, NY1, Newsday
    4 mixed
    Village Voice, Bergen Record, Gannett, Bloomberg
  • Brendan Lemon at the LCT blog responds to the Isherwood-lead backlash (eg. at the Washington Theatre Review blog and Amy Ettinger's).
  • Eccentric Iguana reflects on completing Utopia - and is eager to come back for more!
    Second in theater news, I finished The Coast of Utopia Trilogy. Each play stands out on it's own. Voyage was a Chekhov-esque drama, with many characters to be introduced and each scene moving by the year. What Stoppard did that was brilliant was how he lead you into the mood of the show through a character who in fact wasn't the main character of the series. It was like giving the audience exposition, but first hand.

    Shipwreck soon showed you who the next two plays would revolve around. Of the three I enjoyed this one the most. It started off with the same grandeur as Voyage, but in the second act soon became much more human and intriguing to watch. As well as heartbreaking.

    The final, Salvage, brought the series to a close, or did it? Do we forget that after 1866, Russia still went through much more historical events.

    Hello Lenin.

    But for the final piece I have to say it combined the complexity of the first part with the enjoyability of the second. It was great. So after the show naturally I bought a ticket to a marathon day...

    Yes that's one day, ALL THREE plays. It's a 12 hour day kids. Starting at 11 am, and ending at 11pm. Granted I get a lunch and dinner break. It's going to be intense!!! I can NOT wait. To see it all together.
  • More love for Salvage at ATC from WilliamHacker, concluding:
    [...] But after seeing the conclusion, it just felt immensely moving and satisfying seeing the story of such an influential, important figure, who is yet almost unknown in this country, brought to such complete and rich life on stage.

    Obviously this type of work isn't for everyone, but for me, I found it to be one of the best things I've seen in thirty years of seeing theatre in NYC.
    Also from jesse21:
    [...] However, inside the theatre, I sat among as savvy an audience one is likely to encounter in this city. Our attention was riveted on the stage as "The Coast of Utopia" roared to its conclusion, magnificently rewarding us with one of the most memorable experiences of, not just this, but any season.
  • Film blogger Emma, who's raved about Jennifer Ehle in Alpha Male in the past, gives one more special mention:
    [...] It’s been over 10 years since Jennifer Ehle showed graced our TV screens as the wonderfully sweet Lizzie Bennet, and Alpha Male is probably her best performance since. Her portrayal of the put-upon mother who loses a husband and slowly loses her family is wonderfully realistic and sweet. She steals every scene she’s in, and provides the basis for a potentially dull film, making it totally watchable. [...]
  • Sunshine shoutout from funky_cowgirl:
    [...] It seems that the love stories are used as a breathing space, because those do take up a bit of time (busy filming schedule for Fiennes, love scene wise! ;-) ) but I didn't find it problematic. The relationships with the women do make the story flow. Especially Jennifer Ehle and her real life mum (as her older version) are amazing...She's as much in love with life as her character in Pride & Prejudice. [...]
  • There's constant baseline squeeing for Pride and Prejudice on blogs which we largely ignore, but Adam's is notable because c'mon, he's a he (and wants to be Darcy) and also somehow finds a connection with CS Lewis' biography.

    Beth and I sat down to watch our newly acquired 1995 BBC/A&E 5 1/2 hour version of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" on Sunday afternoon. I was expecting to appreciate it, even enjoy it. Instead, I craved it and hated stopping. We watched half Sunday and finished it Monday. I dreamt about it both nights.

    Part of it was the ridiculously talented interpretive acting of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the main roles. I loved the commitment in their eyes at all times. Ehle in particular connected her words with body language that fit the character perfectly and often resulted in movements that I had never seen on film before. So, anyway, point A: I'm very much in love with those two actors right now...but mostly Ehle...because she's a girl...and looks strikingly like Beth (but she'd heard that already). [...]

Monday, February 05, 2007

"Inimitable bellow"?!

  • Charles Isherwood of the NY Times dares to think Utopia was a bore. BroadwayWorld and All That Chat (twice) discuss.
  • LCT blog updated.
  • Disappointment with Salvage at Theater Snobbery and The Beef although...
    After watching all three plays, I’m surprised to say that I’ll miss the duh-dun-dun-dun music, Brían F. O’Byrne’s (Herzen) acting and — OK, Jennifer Ehle fans, you’ve convinced me, I’m a believer — Ehle’s presence and, I guess, her inimitable bellow.
    We'll take that.
  • Out of left field, a thread about Jennifer Ehle with photos of her at a foreign-language forum. They link us.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Salvage stuff

Salvage Review from Leonard Link:
"Anyway, I enjoyed it, but not as much as Part II - Shipwreck. To this extent I agree with the Times piece - this is not, on the whole, a deeply theatrical play in the sense of lots of plot and action, apart from the second act of Shipwreck. It is, mainly, talk, provided with an extraordinary collection of settings and well-clothed actors in 19th century garb. If you find the talk diverting, thought-provoking, entertaining, then you'll like it. If you want more in the way of action and character development, you'll probably find it boring.

Part III focuses on the declining years of Alexander Herzen and his shrinking intellectual circle. It takes place in England, where he lives in exile because his agitation against serfdom and the worst abuses of the state in Russia would subject him to arrest and punishment were he to return home. His wife died in Part II, so he is left to raise the kids with a housekeeper (played by the actress who played his wife in the previous play, Jennifer Ehle - although there is clearly nothing sexual between them in this play). The old man is randy and manages to concieve children with his best friend's wife. My sympathies are all with the best friend, Nicholas Ogarev, whose alcoholism and frightening fits have apparently rendered him sterile - actor Josh Hamilton steals every scene he is in, as far as I am concerned. But the central figure this time around is Herzen, and Brian F. O'Byrne's work throughout the cycle has been stellar, although one does tire at times of his didactic lectures, which are of course the fault of Stoppard (and perhaps the real Herzen) - O'Byrne does very well with what he's given, and whoever does his make-up achieves an extraordinary aging effect through the play."

Not very nice from Doug Marino.

Not that positive stuff on All That Chat either.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"A Huge Human Spectacle"

As we eagerly await the official opening of Salvage, here's an oldie to tide us over...

New York magazine's December review of Voyage was a tad overdue, but better late than never as the phrase goes!

Jeremy McCarter's opinion is mixed, but as his title So Far, So Good indicates, it contains more praise than negativity.

Despite initially stating that "the incompleteness of the story makes responding to it a bit tricky", he concurrently applauds "the beautiful vastness of the thing", concluding that "this huge human spectacle is its own reward, no matter what comes next".

He also has minor criticisms of the transition from page to stage, noting that "plenty of jokes are clearer in the script than onstage". When remarking on Stoppard's delve into the romantic troubles of the Bakunin girls, he again expresses uncertainty, saying "it's never clear why we ought to care about their heartache, despite the best efforts of Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton to persuade us".

This considered, he seems to reserve largely positive judgment for all the individual actors, most notably Billy Crudup and Ethan Hawke, whom he describes as having "charisma to spare", although he does posit the intriguing, if somewhat strange, idea of them switching roles.

Thankfully, his final summing up has a distinctly positive tone:

Still, it's a testament to what Stoppard is achieving that in spite of the occasional missed joke...if they'd told me I could have stuck around after the final curtain for the start of Part Two, I'd have been delighted to make it an all-night affair.

I look forward to hearing New York's opinion on Shipwreck, which with all due respect I'm guessing we can expect in about April?!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Salvage and Something Different

For a change, here's a blog review on Bedrooms and Hallways:
This is another of our films, which I finally got around to watching yesterday. And I loved it! It's a very witty, if altogether implausible, romantic comedy about a group of tangled-up thirtysomethings in London, from director Rose Trouch (who also did Go Fish). It's definitely worth checking out (if you're willing to overlook the far-fetched boy-meets-girl-meets-boy-meets-boy pansexuality of the whole thing).

And the cast - oh my, check out this ensemble: curly-haired cutie Kevin McKidd, who was in Trainspotting, among a million other films, and now stars in the HBO series Rome; pretty boy James Purefoy, from Mansfield Park and Vanity Fair, who ALSO now stars in Rome; the unbelievably adorable Tom Hollander, better known as the loathsome Lord Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean - or the equally loathsome Mr. Collins in the most recent Pride & Prejudice...(though he's the cutest little queen in this film!); a shockingly hunky Hugo Weaving (who plays this sex-crazed real estate agent who runs around town getting it on with the aforementioned Lord Beckett/Mr. Collins in his clients' houses); and a BLONDE Jennifer Ehle, who we all know and love as Elizabeth Bennet from the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice (and who looks upsettingly like Meryl Streep as a blonde)

But back to the usual, Salvage review at Little Miss Nomad, though, it's not very nice about the entire trilogy.

Utopia misc

  • Confirmation of the February 14 Platform Series event with Tom Stoppard.
  • Picture from Salvage in Playbill's announcement of the start of previews on January 31. Playbill also confirms the postponement mentioned earlier.
  • Need The Coast of Utopia be effective only on the stage? asks Don Hall.
  • Elizabeth Maupin and Lyn Gardner on why there's more Utopia buzz in NYC than there was in London.
  • El schism has some excerpts from the text of Voyage.
  • Zachary Pincus-Roth names Voyage in his 2006 top 10 shows list.
  • All That Chat on where to eat round the LCT. The official site also has tips.
  • Some love at Austen-tatious.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Words of wisdom

To continue the theme of Ms Ehle's ATW seminar mentioned last week, here are excerpts from seminars involving Rosemary Harris and Utopia cast members:

Rosemary Harris emphasises the importance of stamina:

I was going to quote Sir Laurence Olivier because he said the most important attribute an actor could have is stamina. He said, "You can have all the talent in the world, but unless you have stamina you can't survive the great roles." You cannot play Coriolanus unless you've got stamina. You can't play Othello unless you've got stamina. You can't play any of the great parts.

(To view Rosemary Harris' other seminar, from April 1985, click here)

We are used to seeing Martha Plimpton on the stage, but she lets us know what she expects when on the receiving end at the theatre:

I go for a sense that my mind is being respected, number one. That my intelligence is being respected and that I am being drawn into a world. That I am having the experience, not just watching someone feel something. That's not terribly interesting to me. I want to feel it.

She also clearly defines the roles of actor, director and playwright:

No actor, I think, wants to belittle or insult a playwright by assuming that she could tell him what the play is about. And no director or actor should expect a playwright to be his own dramaturge. That's incredibly unfair. A playwright is there to put words on the page. It's the director's job to find the ways to articulate that theatrically.

On a similar note, Billy Crudup shares his views on the job of the director:

That's what a good director does - he tells you how you can function in a safe space. He says, "This is what we're doing. This is how the play is focused." You as an actor and interpreter of the craft then understand intuitively or logically what space you have to grow in - so as not to divert the story, so as not to divert the style and the form. ... A good director will do that because then, you can take it further than he could imagine.

(To see Billy Crudup's other seminar, from September 1998, click here)

Richard Easton praises the recent demolition of boundaries between mediums:

One of the things that is wonderful now...is that actors can wander between media. In the 50s, if you were a film actor, you did film. And if you suddenly did a play, it was thought that your career must be on the skids. ... But now, all the actors do everything.

Brian F. O'Byrne reveals how he deals with the mid-run dip in morale:

Baseball. I watch it, I watch obsessively. On Mondays I go, I travel - this year I managed to go to Chicago and Boston on my Mondays.

In addition to the seminars, the American Theatre Wing has also conducted radio interviews for the past few years. We have in the past mentioned those of Rosemary Harris and Liev Schreiber, and there is now also an interview with Martha Plimpton from June 2006. Billy Crudup will be on the next round of interviews, so watch this space!