Friday, April 20, 2007

"Captivating study in contradictions"

  • Listen to an interesting discussion about the thinkers in The Coast of Utopia at KCRW, featuring William Grimes of "The College Reading List of Utopia" fame and Keith Gessen who wrote the New Yorker feature on Herzen.
  • Coming soon: Utopia the Rock Opera. Brendan Lemon reports at the LCT blog about the cabaret night when cast members showed off their musical chops.
  • Love letter at Edward Copeland on film (part of a long and thoughtful review):
    [...] As impressive as everyone in the cast is, top acting honors must be conferred upon the luminous Ms. Ehle, who excels in three strikingly different roles. The tremulous delicacy that she brings to her performance in “Voyage” as the frail, gentle Liubuv, who finds bittersweet if fleeting happiness in the blush of first romance, exists in stark contrast to the firm-minded pragmatism of “Salvage’s” Malwida, the perspicacious German governess who exerts a steadying influence on the children of the Herzen household while keeping a wary eye fixed on the reckless behavior of its elders. It is in “Shipwreck,” however, that the actress is most prominently featured, and where she makes her most indelible impression. Far from the square-shouldered, sensible spinster of Part 3, or the pale, shy ingenue of Part I, Natalie Herzen is a rose in full bloom, a ravishing, vibrant romantic heroine who follows her heart into uncharted territory even as the ground beneath her feet begins to give way. The actress creates a captivating study in contradictions; winsome yet seductive, incisive yet wrong-headed, alternately reflective and impulsive, she provides the trilogy with its richest characterization, and its most lyrical.

    As evidenced by her brilliant, Tony-winning turn in The Real Thing, Ehle has an instinctive grasp of the nuances of Stoppard’s language; her delivery is so natural and assured that it doesn’t even sound scripted, but rather something being thought up freshly on the spot. This is something I haven’t observed with any other actor in a Stoppard play, or really with many stage actors in general (stage acting seemingly necessitates a certain degree of staginess). The actress’s proficiency with dialogue is made all the more remarkable by its artlessness; although her physical transformation from role to role is quite stunning, her command of the language allows her to thoroughly embody her characters to a point where the effort is no longer visible. [...]
  • Ann Midgette of the NY Times interviews the tireless Jack O'Brien, who is directing Puccini's Il Trittico. He compares the two trilogies:
    [...] “ ‘The Coast of Utopia’ is very different,” he added. “The story is evolving in a historical perspective. The pieces of ‘Trittico’ are bound by Puccini’s own imagination and the sound of his music.”

    Another difference: “The incessant, extremely complex voice of Stoppard needed to be banged off surfaces,” he said. “I had to refresh you, not tire you. ‘Il Trittico’ has different problems, especially prejudices. This is not the first time you’ve seen these operas. Whereas with ‘Coast of Utopia,’ no one knew what the hell it was.” [...]

  • Tom Bestor of Rational Feast reviews Salvage. Verdict:
    [...] Although I can see how some might be disappointed in this last installment (it's a bit clunkier than the first two), taken as a whole, the production of "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy is one of the most stunning works of theater I've ever seen. The scale of the sets and staging and effects and lighting that Lincoln Center can put on never ceases to amaze me. The cast is terrific, maintaining focus and energy throughout these long works. I can hardly imagine what they must look (and feel) like on the days they perform all three plays as a marathon. [...]
  • Jesse Jarnow has a Thoughts from Utopia bit on his blog. He ponders:
    [...] For numerous reasons -- rhythm, dialogue, conceits -- it could never translate to film. Does the fact that it can't be mass entertainment make it pretentious? (It is, of course, but for other reasons, often indistinguishable from why it's so grand.) [...]
  • At Pater Familias, Mr Schaefer has high praise for the show:
    [...] We have now watched all three parts of THE COAST OF UTOPIA. We watched all nine hours with continuous delight. We left the theater each night elated. I can’t imagine a better production of any play. The direction and production took full advantage of the resources of an enormous theater. The acting was terrific. I had thought after the first play that the production was lucky to have world class actors like Jennifer Ehle and Amy Irving in small but pivotal parts. The two later plays provided acting challenges worthy of them. I should comment that in an earlier post I said that I thought Ethan Hawke was a better movie actor than a stage actor, based on his Hotspur, which I had thought was good, but not great. I take it all back. Ethan Hawke was magnificent in COAST OF UTOPIA. [...]
    He also wonders whether Utopia would play well in the provinces. If you're a West Coaster you can see for yourself - there's an auction for a private reading of Coast of Utopia by the Shotgun Players at Berkeley.
  • Elisabeth Vincentelli of The Determined Dilettante has this complaint about Salvage:
    [...] The other men are reduced to bellowing gasbags (particularly Ethan Hawke's Bakunin) and the women pretty much disappear—the etch-a-sketch treatment awarded to Malwida von Meysenbug, played with very dry humor by Jennifer Ehle, is particularly irritating. [...]
  • Chris Riley of Suspended Conversation makes this unusual comparison from watching Voyage:
    [...] there was a very bizarre, disturbing character towards the end of the play - a six foot ginger cat, reminiscent of donnie darko's bunny rabbit, both in the style of its insertion into ordinary life and the sense of fate and doom that it conveyed within the story. [...]
  • Star-spotting of sorts: NY Times Op-Eder Maureen Dowd is seen in the audience.
  • A couple of Utopia-related conversations are going on at BroadwayWorld: on who of Jennifer Ehle, Amy Irving and Martha Plimpton might get a Featured nomination, and on which part of the trilogy to see if you can only make one (Shipwreck seems to be the favourite), and more predictions that Utopia will take out Best Play.
  • Huzzah, a fan report from a marathon! This is from Ann, who went to the December meetup as well. Go to the forum to read it. By the way, we welcome any reports you have from the show. Email them in or post in the forum thread - no registration required.

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