Thursday, November 30, 2006

Playbill on Voyage opening

Playbill has an article on the opening with photos and quotage from everyone. Everyone except - yep, you gussed it.

Ctrl-F-"Ehle" goodness:

[sez Jason Butler Harner, aka Turgenev] "The second play is so beautiful. Jennifer and Brian are incredible in it. It's smaller in scope. It's still 10 years, but it's more about relationships, friends growing old together. They've all known each other about 10 or 15 years now so it's much more Chekhovian."
Stunning-looking by Tavern light, Amy Irving gamely played Mother for the play. "I get to be Mother Earth in this one — and, in the next one, not so much," she says with a sexy smile. "It's nice to be able to move from mother to Jennifer Ehle's contemporary."

The latest press review is from the New York Observer by John Heilpern. There's a blog review at Stories of a future librarian, discussion of Tony categories at BWW (the Tony awards administration committee is considering this question when they meet on Nov 30, says Playbill), and Terry Teachout responds to The Playgoer's post on the cost of Utopia tix.

More: review by Elysa Gardner of USA Today:

Stoppard's portrait of the effete complacency of the privileged set is infused with great wit. Richard Easton has many fine, funny moments as the arrogant patriarch Alexander Bakunin, while Jennifer Ehle, Martha Plimpton, Kellie Overbey and Annie Purcell amuse as his sometimes frivolous daughters.

Variety covers the opening and Greg Stepanich is inspired by Belinsky's line about the breath of a single eternal idea. Blogger Amy attended opening night and spotted some celebs. Word at All That Chat is that Salvage has sold out- hope you've got your tickets already.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Voyage opening night videos

Here's a video from opening night at Very dialup-unfriendly, but worth the download as it contains clips from the play and soundbites from the cast. Thanks for the tip Kate! There's quotage from Ms Ehle about three-quarters of the way through, about how you don't need to do any homework for the plays (David Harbour concurs).

NY1 has a video and written review of the play. Ehle-filter:

Adding romantic complications are Bakunin's four daughters, two of whom are portrayed by Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton. Stoppard might have fleshed out the women's roles more, but these fine actresses are excellent nonetheless.

Here's a blog post from that critic, David Cote. There's another review by Leonard Jacobs of Backstage as well, no particular mentions. has "Word of Mouth" reviews by three "real theatregoers", also with video.

Much discussion of The Coast of Utopia at All That Chat meanwhile: on Stoppard's letter to the editor, on whether the plays need to be seen in order, on whether there are really across-the-board raves or not, on how the trilogy will be considered at the Tonys, and a couple of responses to the NY Times review. There are a few more reader reviews at the NY Times as well.

The photo up top is one of nine high-res ones that Josie sent (ta!). Check out the rest at our photo album.


First up: photos! BroadwayWorld has opening night ones and AM New York's slideshow has a few stage stills. Hold on, more opening night photos at Theatermania...and a trillion more if you search for "Coast of Utopia" or "Ehle" at BrunoPress, FilmMagic, Getty Images, WireImage, Isifa. And still more in the photo gallery (photo 11 is with Oskar Eustis, 33 is with Martha Plimpton).

Now, reviews. Click through to read the whole reviews; quoted here are the bits that mention her perf. Spoilers galore.

  • Matt Windman, AM New York. Audio and slideshow.

  • Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News.
    O'Brien expertly guides the large cast. Hawke delivers a high-octane and edgy performance as the egotistical Bakunin; Easton adds dignity as his loving father. Crudup steals the show as the impassioned and impoverished Belinsky. Jennifer Ehle, as Michael's lovesick sister, provides much-needed emotion for the proceedings, while Martha Plimpton makes a vivid impression as his most adventurous sibling.

  • Clive Barnes, NY Post.
    There will be more time later in the story to consider the actors swirling through the trilogy (O'Brien makes telling use, by the way, of the often derided Beaumont stage), but even at this first stopping point, enormous praise is due to Crudup's mousy-looking but valiant sketch of the great Russian critic Belinsky; O'Byrne's centered revolutionary, Herzen; and the shining-faced Ehle as the doomed, Chekovian-like Bakunin sister, Liubov.

  • David Rooney, Variety.
    Harbour carves a soulful, amusing character out of excitable Stankevich, while in smaller roles, O'Byrne, Hamilton and Harner all suggest further developments to come. Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton make vivid impressions as two of Michael's adoring sisters. The romantic idealism of the Bakunin girls, inspired by George Sand, is poignantly echoed in the sad outcomes of their relationships.

  • Ben Brantley, NY Times.
    As for the central performances, there isn’t space here to describe them in the detail they warrant. If some lack the subtlety of their London predecessors, none are wanting in present-tense vividness. (Mr. Easton, Amy Irving, Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton, as members of the same fraught family, are especially affecting. And I enjoyed David Cromwell’s take on an aging, worldly man of letters.)

  • Michael Sommers, Newark Star-Ledger.
    Vivid flashes of humanity are rendered by a 44-member company under O'Brien's masterful direction. An anarchist in the making, Michael is excitingly portrayed by Hawke as the 1800s equivalent of a rock star. Among his confederates, Billy Crudup's bumbling journalist, David Harbour's doomed philosopher and Brían F. O'Byrne's steely idealist are standouts.

    On Michael's home front, Richard Easton's lordly paterfamilias and Jennifer Ehle's consumptive sister are especially touching.

  • John Simon, Bloomberg.
    The acting is mostly admirable from a populous cast of both major and minor players. To list only my personal favorites (yours, with equal justice, may be different), I adduce David Harbour's naively generous, sweetly impractical Stankevich and Billy Crudup's passionately admonishing, sublimely unworldly Belinsky. Also Martha Plimpton's at first carping but eventually pragmatic Varenka and Jennifer Ehle's fragile but not spineless Liubov.

  • Eric Grode, NY Sun
    The cast includes several Stoppard veterans, each of whom seizes on delicious new angles to past successes. Ms. Ehle, all poise and certainty in 2000's Broadway revival of "The Real Thing," dazzles as the far less assured Liubov. (She won a Tony in 2000 and is even better here.) Mr. Easton's Alexander Bakunin is as emphatic as his A.E. Housman was tentative in "The Invention of Love." And Mr. Crudup, who launched his career as the Byronic tutor Septimus in "Arcadia," is almost unrecognizable as the adenoidal, fidgety Belinsky, who describes his impetuous writings as "chaos, excess, and no mercy."

  • Linda Winer, Newsday.
    Brían F. O'Byrne - first seen as an old man - establishes the ultimate moral center of Alexander Herzen, who sees the contradictions between surface civility and oppression. And the actresses - especially luminous Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton - struggle nobly against our unavoidable sense that these ecstatic young characters have wandered in from a Eurocentric Russian production of "Little Women."

  • Jeremy McCarter, NY Magazine.
    Stoppard tends to use domestic scenes like these to lighten up the heavy thinking in his plays: Consider Jumpers, which leavens its three hours of philosophical debate with marital spats and stripping. In Voyage, the pattern’s reversed. Stoppard delves into the romantic troubles of the Bakunin girls, who seek, reject, and are rejected by an array of suitors. But 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. Some wonderfully scandalous love affairs are due to arrive later in the trilogy, so Stoppard may yet recover the light touch for relationships he’s shown lately. For the time being, it’s a relief to leave the Bakunins’ personal lives for the simpler ground of Kantian metaphysics.

  • Robert Feldberg,
    It is relatively minor characters, Bakunin's sisters -- stimulated by the novels of George Sand into yearning for romantic love -- whose relationships we hear about. (Most of the action takes place offstage.)

    The only courtship we see is that of Bakunin's oldest sister, Liubov, played with great charm and sweetness by Jennifer Ehle, and the shy young philosopher Stankevich, portrayed with comparable appeal by David Harbour.

  • Ann Marie Walsh, Union-Tribune.
    Toward the end, this vital cast conjures cresting and contrasting emotions with such insight and visual brilliance they confirm O'Brien as Stoppard's foremost interpreter. From the depths of the Beaumont stage, four crouching serfs haul thick ropes to roll a pianoforte forward. Lit by candlelight, Liubov Bakunin (Jennifer Ehle) and Nicholas Stankevich (David Harbour) are seated there, playing a Chopinesque duet as they talk.

    Their dewy, tentative sympathy makes their fates all the more poignant; each, so full of promise, will soon die of consumption. Harbour's Nicholas, smitten by German idealism, seems a likable dreamer, pure of heart, if short on experience. The glowing Ehle – as emotionally focused and quietly commanding an actor as her real-life mother, the legendary Rosemary Harris – creates a tremulous, though common-sensical Liubov.

  • Michael Feingold, Village Voice.
  • Michael Musto, Village Voice. (not exactly a review)
  • Frank Scheck, Reuters.
  • David Finkle, Theatermania.
  • Peter Marks, Washington Post
  • Toby Zinman, Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • Jacques Le Sourd, The Journal News.

    Other bits on the blogs and elsewhere:
  • New Yorkology roundup.
  • Popsurfing's roundup and review.
  • Michael Sendrow's review.
  • Review from NYC Critics' Corner BroadwayWorld blog.
  • Steve on Broadway rounds up a few reviews.
  • A (brief) mention of Jennifer Ehle at the LCT blog in Brendan Lemon post on the opening night partay:
    Voyage had an opening last night, and the reviews today are wonderful, but just because the play is about Fichte, Hegel, and Kant doesn't mean you don't want to know about Chanel, Dior, and Ralph Lauren -- what everyone was wearing. I wish I could be more help in this department, but by the time the cast repaired to the Upper West Side bar Fred's for the after party I realized that my camera phone had broken down. Here's all I remember on the fashion front: actor Robert Stanton was wearing Nicole Farhi and every woman was sporting something to show off her figure.

    Among a group of theater people the Farhi connection is understandable: she's married to playwright David Hare. The women's clinging fabrics also make sense: if you had to wear form-concealing crinolines every night on stage you'd want to bust out, too. Call me a sexist if you like, but even before I downed a drink I was quite content to observe Kellie Overbey in her shiny '60s number (and new bangs); Jennifer Ehle appearing like she'd just come off a Hollywood red carpet; Patricia Conolly looking beautifully made up; and Erika Rolfsrud inhabiting precincts of glamour usually reserved for Vogue cover girls. Martha Plimpton may have been the most ready-for-her-closeup: she not only knows how to wear a spangly black cocktail dress with utter nonchalance but, when the clamor for booze at Fred's, her usual civilian hangout, overwhelmed the bartender, she displayed another skill: she broke the pub's fourth wall and assisted him. [...]
  • It's Pouring Alright

    Sign On SanDiego declares Voyage "Smart and Successful" in Anne-Marie Welsh's review.
    Frank Scheck also reports for Reuters UK.

    Hooo boy

    As rain is to pours, rave is to.....? So. Many. Reviews. Hardly even know where to start. Ehle-filtering of the reviews will happen post-sleep. For now keep an eye on others' roundups: there's a pretty comprehensive BroadwayWorld forum thread that is tracking most of the Voyage reviews, and Broadway Pulse also has a few with quotage.

    Also here's Tom Stoppard's response to the earlier "required pre-reading" piece in the NY Times, and an article by Martha Plimpton in the NY Daily News.

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Setting sail

    The first press reviews for Coast of Utopia: Voyage are out! A little earlier than expected, but who's complaining.

    Matthey Murray of Talkin' Broadway gives a rave:

    There are few greater pleasures in living a theatre-full life than expecting to be drowned by a towering show and instead finding yourself washed away on a tide of exciting, thought-provoking entertainment that nonetheless eventually deposits you safely on shore. Or should that be the coast?

    Let's go with that, if only for the moment. For tribute must be paid to The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard's epic trilogy of plays that just got its official start with the opening of its first chapter, Voyage. Lincoln Center Theater is occupying itself with this mammoth opus for the better part of the season, and if you want to step foot in the Vivian Beaumont between now and March, the only way to do so is by way of 19th century Russia. Believe it or not, this is less threatening - and more rewarding - than it sounds.

    Despite Stoppard's not entirely undeserved reputation for writing dense plays on esoteric subjects ranging from philosophy and chaos theory to literature and England's occupation of India, Voyage is some of the most instantly accessible Stoppard Broadway has seen in years. Advanced word from London, where The Coast of Utopia premiered a few years back, was that the work was compelling and brilliantly written but stuffy and perhaps even self-absorbed. Under Jack O'Brien's direction here, Voyage doesn't smolder or steam - it crackles and blazes. [...]

    Michael Kuchwara for AP is also positive:
    "Voyage" is a tantalizing curtain raiser, a taste, one hopes, of what's to come.

    The play is the opening salvo of Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia," a nine-hour trilogy that is epic in its sweep, yet, judging from this first episode, surprisingly personal, intimate even, in the emotions that flow through this passionate piece of theater. [...]

    One of the strange things about "Voyage" is that the women almost seem like an afterthought. It takes a while to differentiate among the four Bakunin daughters, portrayed by
    Jennifer Ehle, Martha Plimpton, Kellie Overbey and Annie Purcell. Their mother (an underutilized Amy Irving) also comes across as a minor accessory. Eventually, Ehle as the most tremulous of the daughters, become something more than a cipher as she pines for the elusive Stankevich.

    If Stoppard's language is dense (at least for the men), the production design — sets, Bob Crowley and Scott Pask; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Brian MacDevitt — is buoyant and staggeringly beautiful. There are some memorable images, particularly an endless line of peasants spread across the wide Beaumont stage, and a wintery Russian palace, looking as if it were constructed out of ice.

    Despite the many changes of seasons in "Voyage" and the liveliness of the talk, there is an autumnal, almost Chekhovian feeling to the proceedings. It's the beginning of the passing of the old order although no one seems to realize what exactly is happening. Yet it's this anticipation of the unknown — and the willingness to confront it — that makes "Voyage" so theatrically vibrant. [...]

    Word from All That Chat is that there's a review of Voyage in today's New York magazine by Jeremy McCarter, not yet online.

    On the blogs, Ryan describes the striking opening sequence of Voyage and is positive about the show:

    [...] I said to Craigy that what I really liked about it was how it's so thoughtful and philosophical, but it tempers that just perfectly with enough humor that it never felt too heavy. Ethan Hawke is in it. I don't really like him, but I'll have to say he was really not too bad at all. Martha Plimpton is in it, and she was great, but her part wasn't too terribly huge. Amy Irving, too. [...]

    Johann also recommends it. Jesse Wilbur of if:book writes a thoughtful rave:

    [...] Prior to seeing the play I was concerned that the first act of a trilogy would have a sense of being open in the way a cliffhanger is open. I was watching it with two visitors from out of town, and it is unlikely they'll be able to return to see Shipwrecked or Salvage. I didn't want them to leave with a sense of the work being unfinished. While the action is indeed open-ended, there is a very strong sense of closure at the end of the second act. It is more portentous than unfinished: there is war and exile and a nobleman at the end of his life, contemplating the loss of his son and the dissolution of his estate. It is a nod to the great Russian novels, but with the unfussy delivery that I recognize from other Stoppard plays.

    One of the things I kept noticing during the performance was the presence of books. When Stankevich passed a book to Bakunin, I felt the transfer of knowledge. The play expresses ideal of what we think about at the Institute: books as vehicles for big ideas. There is a treatise waiting to be written about the view of literature defining a nation (explosively presented in a monologue from Belinsky). And there is, throughout, a very powerful sense that the printed word is vastly important. But there is also that sense of impending loss, which makes us question where we are today. Do we live in a world where idealism is lost, and where the gilt-edged books filled with new philosophies are no longer valued? Or is it the opposite? Do we live in a world where the book is doing better than ever, and idealism takes so many forms that it is unrecognizable?

    smore2 from ATC is harder to please however, finding little to praise in the play.

    As for random bits and pieces, Playbill's announcement of the opening includes a photo of Bakunins Sr and Jr. At Musings from the Lehigh Valley, there's a response to the NY Times profile on Tom Stoppard, and BroadwayWorld forumers speculate on the chances of Utopia being extended beyond March.

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    "Too much philosophy"

    Michael Riedel via The Playgoer:

    "Voyage," Tom Stoppard's new play about radical politics in pre-revolutionary Russia, is dense, dazzling, beautiful and demanding.

    But it's not for everyone. Indeed, there are always a few bail-outs at intermission. Stoppard, who ducks out of Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater for a smoke after the first act, keeps an informal tally of the people leaving his play. Lately, he's started asking them why.

    The dialogue goes something like this:

    Stoppard: "Excuse me. Why are you leaving this play?"

    Lincoln Center Theater subscriber (age, about 97): "Who are you?"

    Stoppard: "I'm the playwright."

    Subscriber (fidgeting with infrared hearing device): "We can't tell you!"

    Stoppard: "Please. I really want to know. Are you leaving because it's boring?"

    Subscriber (crinkling a cough-drop wrapper): "Well, yes."

    Stoppard: "Why is it boring?"

    Subscriber: "Too much philosophy!"

    David Hare, who has a play of his own in previews - "The Vertical Hour," starring Julianne Moore - says he envies his friend Stoppard's "sang-froid."

    "I don't have it myself," he adds. "I can't bear to listen to what people say about my plays. Not once have I ever heard a single person say anything nice. The very first comment I ever heard, at the first preview of my first play, was: 'I'm sorry, darling. That was my idea.' "

    Prediction: "Voyage" will get terrific reviews. And audiences who devote their full attention to the play will be richly rewarded.

    "Hemorrhaging art"

    The buzz is loudening!

  • Juan Pedro Quiñonero responds to the mammoth NY Times Coast of Utopia reading list with his own pared down list of five books. In Spanish, so Babel it.

  • Jeremy at CitySpecific gives a qualified thumbs up to Voyage but found Ms Ehle's character too tearful.

  • NPR's Weekend Edition has a piece on the staging of the play (transcript here). Found via Charles Deemer's blog.

  • Newsweek article on Sir Tom. Some quotage from the man:

    [...] Stoppard, a master at using wit and humanity to lighten up Big Ideas, denies his play is a polemic. "It's about a family, and brothers and sisters and struggles between lovers, and parents and children." Lofty ideals may drive his characters but they can't escape the emotional turbulence of their own lives, and Stoppard focuses on this human messiness. Exhibit A is the writer and early socialist Alexander Herzen (played by Brían F. O'Byrne), who appears in "Voyage" and anchors the next two plays, set mostly in Europe where the gentlemen revolutionaries go into exile. "Herzen was an early feminist," says the playwright. "He didn't think men had the right of possession over their wives. But it never occurred to him that his wife might fall for somebody else. For a little while, it destroyed him." [...]

  • Sign On San Diego has an article about Jack O'Brien. It's about his relationship with the Old Globe mostly, but there's quite a bit on Utopia:

    [...]The first of Stoppard's trilogy of historical plays, “Voyage,” opens at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center tomorrow night with a star-studded, 46-member cast.

    While performing “Voyage” on weekends, the cast rehearses with O'Brien on weekdays for the second drama in the trilogy, “Shipwreck,” before tackling “Salvage.” All three plays center on the mid-19th-century radicals whose ideas transformed czarist Russia.

    With a $7.5 million budget and a gleaming, lacquered set by British designer Bob Crowley, Stoppard's trilogy plays larger than the big, Globe-sprung commercial musicals – the “Damn Yankees” revival and “The Full Monty” – that first earned O'Brien his New York reputation.

    “I have never been prouder of anything in my life than my work on 'Coast of Utopia,' ” O'Brien said. “I'm hemorrhaging art. My veins are open and it's just cascading out of me.

    “And we have this miracle company of basically young people,” he added, referring to a cast headlined by film stars Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup, and Tony winners Brian F. O'Byrne and Jennifer Ehle. [...]

    Also there's an account of the cast's response to Richard Easton's onstage collapse.

  • A love letter to Utopia and Billy Crudup by Katurian at Broadway World:

    You know the moment during "Keep it Gay" in "The Producers" where Carmen & co. flash the mirror around to the repeated tune of "Tony", "Tony", "Tony", "Tony?" That's exactly what was on my mind as I left the Lincoln Center Friday night. You know, along with questions about the human soul, the essence of socialism and communisim, and thoughts on the orgin of ideas. Typical mind flashes for anyone who wisely ventures to this production. [...]

  • And more love at All That Chat from WWriter:

    I did not go into Coast of Utopia optimistically. I know nothing of that period of Russian history and wasn't sure I even cared. In fact, my friend and I were discussing to whom we might sell our tickets to Parts II and III.

    Well, considering that Tom Stoppard has been my favorite playwright for 30 years, I shouldn't have worried! Coast of Utopia, Part I, is a tremendous piece of work, funny, warm, involving, moving, and fascinating.

    It is, however, occasionally hard to follow, I will admit--lots of people with Russian names, lots of quickly spoken dialogue, lots of plot. But that's only a minor problem, since there is so much to chew on and enjoy.

    Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup are both brilliant. Vibrant. Convincing. Entertaining. They may have to arm wrestle for the Tony--and Brian O'Byrne hasn't even had a chance to make his impact yet!

    I just want to throw positive adjectives at this show. [...]
  • Sunday, November 26, 2006

    NYT - "Playing With Ideas"

    The New York Times has published a lengthy 3-page article on Coast of Utopia. It includes lots of quotes from Stoppard. Here's a taste:

    Like all Stoppard endeavors, “Voyage” is chunky with cerebration, enamored of ideas more than of people, and designed to entertain, educate and intimidate theater audiences all at the same time. Beneath the hum of concentration — we are now in the fourth scene of the second act, set in The Telescope’s drab offices in the summer of 1835 — Stoppard leans over and speaks in a quiet voice that has about it an air of declarative finesse, a projection of polite authority. He enunciates his words in a crisp, plummy British accent (pronouncing “issue” as “ISS-yew”) that bears scant trace of his émigré status — Stoppard, who was born Tomas Straussler on July 3, 1937, in Czechoslovakia, escaped the Nazis with his family and landed in England when he was 8 — except for the Mitteleuropean roll he gives his r’s. “The last time I was in a technical,” he says, “was at the Royal Court Theater — and you can imagine how different that was.” I nod as if I can imagine it, although I can’t, but there is something about Stoppard that inspires the wish to prove worthy of him. (“I think most people working with Tom would like to feel they were speaking his language, and if not intellectual equals, somewhere in the same neighborhood,” O’Brien said. “Few of us are, but we all continually seek his approval.”)

    Stoppard leans over again a minute or so later and whispers, “I love scrims.” He is referring to the sheer cotton or linen hangings that are used as opaque backdrops or semitransparent curtains. This strikes me as a comment straight out of Wilde, much like his character Guildenstern’s line “Give us this day our daily mask,” suggesting a preference for the veiled over the overt, for artifice over reality. Stoppard says it with a measure of catch-me-if-you-can irony. Do not come any closer. Full stop. Trespassers will be made to feel foolish, or worse yet, presumptuous. Full stop. Or maybe I read all this sub-rosa meaning into what is in the end is just a clever comment only after the fact, once I have met with the playwright several more times and still find myself scrambling for clues to the man behind the poise.

    Voyage opens tomorrow!

    Friday, November 24, 2006

    Shrapnel soufflé

    Ode to O'Brien by Brendan Lemon of the LCT blog:

    Since it's Thanksgiving week, I'd like to write about someone to whom I owe a debt of gratitude: The Coast of Utopia's director, Jack O'Brien. Of all the fine performances being given during this enterprise, the one that audiences will never see is the one he is giving back stage. By calling his behavior a performance I do not mean to suggest that his tireless activity is somehow insincere. Too many times I've seen his joviality turn suddenly dead-serious, and the first time actors experience this shift can be a little disorienting.

    No, I mean simply that, at least backstage, Jack is every bit as entertaining as the actors. (So many of the best directors are, whether like Mike Nichols they have been actors themselves or whether they could have been had they not inherited a gene for bossiness.) Sometimes Jack's comedy is in his off-kilter observations: one day, he referred to a scene of delicately phrased political shouting in Shipwreck as a "shrapnel soufflé"; I got such a case of the church giggles that I had to leave the room. Other times, Jack's gift is in his movement: at the first rehearsal for the big party scene in Voyage, he demonstrated the servants' subtle gambols past the lamps with such aplomb I swore Astaire was there. [...]

    William Grimes of the NY Times writes an article on The Coast of Utopia with suggested books for pre-reading. There's also a multimedia slideshow that is absolutely beaut- Jack O'Brien narrates over a bunch of stills from the production (some including Jennifer Ehle).

    Over at BroadwayWorld the peoples are saying nice things about Voyage and that you should get tix before the official opening on Nov 27. Ignore the blog pimping, svp.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    The toe green onion

  • A NY Sun interview with Coast of Utopia director Jack O'Brien:

    Director Jack O'Brien currently has a new Broadway production. He also is in rehearsal with another Broadway venture. This is not surprising; Mr. O'Brien is one of the busiest theatre directors in America. What is unusual is that the show in performance and the one in rehearsal are the same play.

    Well, sort of. Mr. O'Brien is in the midst of a six-month commitment to the American premiere of "The Coast of Utopia," Tom Stoppard's heady three-part examination of 19th-century Russian thinkers. The first part, "Voyage," began previews October 17 and will open November 27. Meanwhile, rehearsals began on November 2 for the second section, "Shipwreck," which will start previews December 5.

    "The first one hasn't really been seen by the press and we're already starting work on the second," Mr. O'Brien said. Despite his pressing situation, Mr. O'Brien sounded more chipper than anxious. Actually, he sounded chipper and anxious at the same time, and always does. "What was very interesting is we had been all through it in September. We did the text work on all three plays. Then we put that away and went to work on the first one."

    All those "we's" refer to his 44-member cast, a gathering the size of which no other Broadway play and few musicals can boast. "[Director and choreographer] Jerry Mitchell and I are laughing about it,"said Mr. O'Brien, mentioning his collaborator on "Hairspray." "He's about to go into rehearsal for the musical ‘Legally Blonde,' and we have more people in ‘The Coast of Utopia!' Unbelievable." (The trilogy's $7.5 million budget is also musical-sized.) [quite a bit more...]

  • Stars spotted in the audience by Theatermania:

    As if anyone needed further proof that celebrities have better things to do on Sunday and stay home and watch football, November 19 was a very starry affair at the theater. The matinee of The Coast of Utopia at the Vivian Beaumont brought out the play's author Sir Tom Stoppard, Caroline Kennedy, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, actors Phyllis Newman, Linda Emond, Estelle Parsons, Howard McGillin, and Bernard White, producer Margo Lion, and Vineyard Theatre artistic director Doug Aibel.

  • Korean review on Voyage...I think. Babelfish it for a laugh.

  • John Ehle's The Land Breakers gives old ladies insomnia.

  • There's an interview with Tom Stoppard at WNYC on the Leonard Lopate Show. Can't find a direct mp3 link, you might need to subscribe to the podcast. Or try this link (stream audio?) given by The Playgoer, who laments the price of tickets. [edit: here's the mp3 of the Stoppard interview]

  • Word from All That Chat is that there are TDF tix to the opening night of Voyage on Nov 27.

    Happy 19th, C!
  • Monday, November 20, 2006

    Same old

    A report from Voyage by law professor Leonard Link:

    [...] Saw a matinee preview on Saturday of "Voyage," the first of three parts of Tom Stoppard's trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, at Lincoln Center Theater. This is Stoppard's ambitious attempt to provide a sweeping account of the young Russian intellectuals of the mid-19th century who chafed under the stifling Czarist system and sought a new nationalism grounded in Russian themes and intellectual freedom. It is the usual Stoppard mix of drama and comedy, with characters occasionally breaking into set speeches which defy the conventions of normal dialogue, sounding more like prose textbook than human speech. But those moments are merely scattered through the show; otherwise the dialogue is convincing and idiomatic.

    The cast is very strong, especially Ethan Hawke as the fatally egotistical Michael Bakunin. It is a huge cast, wielded expertly by director Jack O'Brien in a stunning production. There was still some learning of lines going on, I think, since I heard a few slips, but then it has not officially opened yet. The house was pretty full, and the audience very enthusiastic, for good reason. Stoppard is capable of writing interminably long acts, but in this case the successions of short scenes keep things from becoming over-extended, and the cast is so marvelous to watch that the time flies by. One does have to concentrate hard with Stoppard, and it really helps to arrive early enough to read the synopsis of the action. The construction is unusual - Act I sets out events from the Summer of 1833 through the fall of 1841 at the Bakunin country estate of Premukhino; then Act II reverts back to Spring 1834, giving us the same events from the perspective of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In other words, a strictly chronological presentation would have intermingled the scenes of Acts I and II, with the same characters as they traveled backed and forth between the locations.

    Does it always work? Well, Act I can have a disjointed feeling, but Act II hangs together and has many "aha" moments when the gaps in Act I are filled in with what was happening away from the country estate in the interim between scenes. By the end, one has a fuller picture and the characters are coming into focus.

    I'll be seeing Part II in December. It is possible towards the end of the run to see all three parts in close proximity, although that would be a big investment of time over a short period.... Anyway, this one is definitely worth seeing.

    And the show inspired a meditation on art at AgapeAngst:

    [...] Seeing Tom Stoppard's fine play today made me excited to think - to engage in pretentious debate -to search for something beyond the real - beyond the base acts of survival, sex, and food consumption. I felt invigorated with the spirit that I , no we, can make culture - we can make the history of our choosing. We are bound by the follies of war and oppression - but we , we make what remains, what endures - we leave behind our spirit - we leave behind our life. That is our immortality. That is our art.

    I don't want to write about art - I want to make art. I want to be art.

    I don't know what I've just said - but I know that I have a feeling, a nagging to get it all out - there aren't words that can define it. I just want to feel it and know.

    By the way, a reader has written in to ask if anyone's going to see Voyage or Shipwreck from Dec 18 - Jan 3. It's her first time in NYC so she would like to go to the theater with other fans. E-mail or leave a comment here if you're interested.

    Sunday, November 19, 2006


    Here's a quick thumbs up from The Girl Will Scar You
    Then we went on to The Coast of Utopia, the new Tom Stoppard play, which was very good. This was the 1st part of a 3 part saga that will end some time next year. Thoroughly enthralling work, especially with the subject matter (19th century Russia), but that's always interested me.

    Saturday, November 18, 2006


    Thanks to the LCT folks! Click on the pics to see the humungo verions.

    For blog searchy purposes: Coast of Utopia: Voyage photos with Jennifer Ehle, Martha Plimpton, Ethan Hawke, David Harbour, Kellie Overbey and Annie Purcell.

    Friday, November 17, 2006


  • YouTube video of John Ehle doing a book reading.
  • New Spider-Man 3 trailer and a detailed writeup that includes a photo and description of a scene that Rosemary Harris is in. There's also a mention of her in an article about a new animal welfare food labelling scheme.
  • Interview with Jack O'Brien, Coast of Utopia director.

    [...] The Coast of Utopia, whose first part is now in previews and opens Nov. 27, is a much-anticipated project. The three plays that make up Stoppard's epic- Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage - chronicle the lives and ideas of five artists and thinkers who laid the groundwork of the Russian Revolution: socialist writer Alexander Herzen, anarchist Michael Bakunin, novelist Ivan Turgenev, poet Nicholas Ogarev and critic Vissarion Belinsky.

    "Tom never writes a play about one thing," O'Brien said. "He writes a play about a lot of stuff. This play is historical. All of these things actually happened to these people. It's very witty. It has to do with philosophy. It has to do with the evolution of independent thinking in Europe and Russia in the 19th century."

    O'Brien previously directed Stoppard's Hapgood and The Invention of Love, but they didn't really prepare him for The Coast of Utopia, which the director called "the theatrical equivalent" of Wagner's Ring cycle. "It's some sort of experience," he said. "It's like watching a novel."

    The cast of 44 includes Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle, Ethan Hawke, Amy Irving, Brian O'Byrne and Martha Plimpton, an unusually starry group for a long run with a nonprofit theater company.

    Part Two of the trilogy begins in December and will play in repertory with Part One as Part Three is being rehearsed. By Valentine's Day, all three will be up and running in tandem and continue through mid-March. The last three Saturdays of the run in February and March are marathons when all three plays - a total of 81/2 hours - can be seen in one day. The marathons are already sold out.

    O'Brien thinks a marathon could be too much. For out-of-towners, he suggests catching consecutive performances of the three plays over two days by taking advantage of the Wednesday and Saturday matinees.

    "So in an overnight, you can see all three plays, but you're not sitting there for an entire day and you have a little time to think and absorb it. I think that's the best way of doing it." [...]

  • Misc "saw it, liked it": Dan, HEad of the ages, Andrew Guest:
    [...] Last night we saw Voyage the first part of Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy of plays. Thoroughly dramatic opening, with a stunning special effect of waves crashing on the stage got me to sit up in my seat. It was long and wordy, no surprise for Stoppard, but I was mesmerized. It helps to have read some Turgenev, to understand how modern ideas of the self came to Russia really at just the wrong time. To our eyes and ears, the Russians seem almost laughably naive, but they were struggling against a thousand years of groupthink, and needed time to adjust to seeing themselves as individuals in a modern setting. I hope to get back to see parts two and three next year. [...]

  • Sunshine review from a Jewish perspective.
  • Latest word from Verve Pictures is that Alpha Male has been entered for consideration for the 2007 BAFTAs. Nominations come out in January.
  • More blog mini-reviews: DBG is disappointed but there's love for Voyage at One scheme of happiness despite lack of preparation. She delivers this high praise:
    [...] Of course, a cast boasting Ethan Hawke, Martha Plimpton, Amy Irving and Billy Crudup guarantees a full house, even if the show were a dissertation on the redeeming qualities of cat poop. Luckily for us all, Stoppard's jaunty script provoked far more interest and humor and kept the audience closer to the edge of their seats than any litterbox chatter I've encountered recently. [long, read on]

  • New post at the LCT blog on how actors spend their waiting time between scenes.
    During a technical rehearsal last month for Voyage, when a light cue was being rewritten and much of the cast was hanging out in the audience seats of the Vivian Beaumont, Ethan Hawke remarked, "The waiting is harder than the acting."

    Many actors would agree. Passing the time between set-ups, in fact, is such an integral part of the actor's life that it's a wonder no Stanislavsky or Uta Hagen has written a guide on The Art of Waiting. [...]

  • Sherry Grindeland of the Seattle Times recounts her trip to the city that never sleeps, meeting Voyage company member Erika Rolfsrud.
  • Another giveaway of the Pride and Prejudice 10th anniversary box set at Elegant Variation.

  • Plus, we just passed the 100 000 visitors mark recently. Yay!

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Richard Easton returns two weeks before opening

    BroadwayWorld reports that Richard Easton, who as we know has recovered, came back to Coast of Utopia on the 11th of November, two weeks earlier than the official opening.

    Meanwhile, we've been mentioned on NewYorkology for faithfulness in tracking Coast of Utopia news!

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Tsar Georgiy

    Photo from the New Yorker, via Agent E (thanks!). And Brendan Lemon of the LCT blog finds echoes of the recent mid-term elections in The Coast of Utopia, or vice versa, or something.

    It has been difficult to see daily life today in terms of anything but last night's election. And when daily life involves a play about politics, the associations in the rehearsal room are bound to be frequent. One example among many: in a scene from Shipwreck being run today, about the European revolutions of 1848 and the pressures for change they exerted on European royals, Herzen remarks, "The Tsar will have to make a gesture." (News flash: "Bush Says Rumsfeld To Resign!") [...]

    Oh, and there's free booze if you answer a quiz about Voyage correctly. Have a look in the book for clues. Or buy and read the thing!

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Voyage stuff

  • Review from John Meyers, Connecticut Post.
  • Cheaper Ironies - guestbook message from someone who got to see rehearsals.
  • MrSmearcase feels intellectually bullied.
  • Doug Marino says it's packed with standout performances, but wonders whether average Joe theatregoer will get it.
  • Mixed views and debate at All That Chat.
  • Japanese review, or something.
  • Jaime loved it.
  • New but negative reader review at NY Times.
  • Some Billy Crudup love at IMDB.
  • Photo of Ethan Hawke as Bakunin at Theatermania.
  • Last and best, a slideshow from Martha Plimpton's blog, with backstage photos! If you want to see them one by one, start here. None of notre dame I think.
  • Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Coast of Utopia photos

    Only two of yet, but they are the first two! From BroadwayWorld.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    More love for Voyage

    Dork Out Dude has seen Voyage and reports:
    Last night, after more than a week’s worth of hopeful trips to the TKTS booth in Times Square, Keith decided it was time to see Voyage - the first of a collection of three plays by Tom Stoppard called The Coast of Utopia - at any cost. I feel like the luckiest person to have been able to go with him. It was magnificent. Each character, as Keith said while we walked out of the theater, was sympathetic. “You just wanted to go up on stage and talk to them. You wanted to know them. Or, at least, I did.”

    Lincoln Center Theater was another experience in itself - a semicircular pitch, I think the shape is called. The sets and the were managed perfectly and dynamically, and worked to make each scene lively and interesting. There really was not a single moment when I felt it was insincere, forced, or slow. What a triumph for such a philosophical, cerebral play to be performed with an overall sense of excitement and true thrill.

    I’m going to be injecting Shipwreck and Salvage, the other two plays in the series, into my reading list and will be getting tickets to them also. More to come on Stoppard’s brilliance, Russia’s intellectual history, and specific cast members.

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Everyone has TB

    Five- and four-star verdicts from the NY Times' reader reviews.

    Equal to, if not better than, London, November 2, 2006
    Reviewer: sirodenaj
    Saw the complete Utopia marathon in London, and this is at least its equal. A wonderfully thought-out and gorgeously designed production. Bob Crowley's sets and Catherine Zuber's costumes continue to astound (William Dudley's London designs were also extraordinary). The direction and acting really cannot be bettered. It would be unfair to single anyone out, although Billy Crudup as the doomed, tubercular (a lot of these characters are, unsurprisingly, tubercular) Vissarion Belinsky gets a great set piece and does it full justice. Can't wait for Parts 2 and 3. But: Do some homework before going. Some people behind me (a) had never heard of Turgenev and (b) of course had no idea how to pronounce his name. Wonder what they made of most of it?

    A Stoppard Classic, November 2, 2006
    Reviewer: mogliettina_1
    I admit that this somewhat "talky" production of "The Coast of Utopia", with its penchant for lengthy philosophical discussions, was responsible for me nodding off occasionally. But don't go by me! I can attest to the fact that the audience met this wonderful play, the first in the trilogy, called "Voyage", with enthusiasm. The stage design was absolutely spectacular -- creative and unique in its beauty. The massive cast seemed dedicated to their roles and executed them with spirit. Special acknowledgement goes to Billy Crudup who brought the character of Belinsky to life despite the fact that he was fighting a terrible cold. His was a stand-out performance and worth the price of the ticket. Highly recommended.

    At All That Chat there's consensus that the production is stunning and well-acted, but some people find that the play is emotionally unengaging.

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    Utopia, Meg March, fanfic and more

  • Parallels between the Russian intelligentsia and Livejournal? Tis so.

    I feel like I just started some important project last night but really I just saw a play. Tom Stoppard's "The Coat of Utopia" is a trilogy, and I just saw the first part "Voyage." It's about a circle of Russian intellectuals in the nineteenth centur: Michael Bakunin, Nicholas Stankevich, Vissarion Belinsky, Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Herzen and Nicholas Ogarev. In last night's show they were all young and stupid--especially Michael Bakunin. Ethan Hawke did a great job playing somebody who was charismastic and idealistic and thinks the universe revolves around him. Billy Crudup was also great as Belinsky.

    On the way out I pushed through what I swear I thought was a group of college students standing around near the entrance and then realized it was the cast I just saw. Billy Crudup is a tiny, tiny man.

    There were times when the play actually reminded me of lj, I guess because it's one modern place where people sometimes get very intense about ideas. There's one scene where someone is considering printing a new essay in a newspaper and he's discussing getting it past the censors. He says, "I think we can do it if we change a couple of words. Two, in fact. "Russia" and "we." He suggests changing it to "certain people," like "Certain people are neither east nor west..." "The Rennaissance passed certain people by..." It reminded me of those lj posts where people try to respond to a post without referencing the actual post because that might be wanky.

    So two more plays to go...

  • Rave for Ms Ehle by SingingButler at ATC:

    Someone get this woman another Tony! Her work in Part One is truly remarkable. It's no doubt a tough piece to play (I enjoyed it on the whole) and some of the actors (particularly the two younger sisters) have trouble not sounding strained in their effort to speak the language and to project their voices. Ehle, on the other hand, seems to have this down pat, quite naturally. It is she who speaks as if the words are hers, even when not saying anything of tremendous importance. She's also lucky to have the most emotionally fulfilling part.

    I hear she has another emotional role (even bigger) in the second part. Anyone know what she does in the third?

    She is really something special.

  • Emily finds Little Women parallels:

    The play was incredible. I'd known the vague outline of the plot, and naturally I'd expected good acting, but wow. All of you who can get over to Lincoln Center for a piece of The Coast of Utopia, DO IT. I saw Voyage, and my goodness. There was lots and lots of philosophy, huge blocks of it, but delivered in such a way that it all made wonderful sense. Particularly Billy Crudup's speech about the need for a national literature; that really validated my being an English major, which I always have qualms about. And then the way that Prumkhino, Ethan Hawke's family estate, was located as a site of stasis; the first real movement that happened there was the end of Act One, when all these autumn leaves kept falling. And really, that's static too; autumn is a time of the dying of the year, just as two of the characters died, and were talked about in that scene in the past tense. Billy Crudup was so passionate about literature, and Ethan Hawke was such an aesthete promanading as an intellectual, and Jennifer Ehle was such a Meg March, and really it was just truly stunning.

  • TheEnchantedHunter at the BWW forums isn't digging it. His verdict:

    Though beautifully-produced and nicely acted by a game cast, THE COAST OF UTOPIA: VOYAGE is a dense, heady stew with little entertainment value or dramatic interest to engage even the most erudite theatergoer. Though I personally found the philosophical arguments fascinating (I've a background in comparative religions), it doesn't compensate for the unnecessarily academic, dry presentation of a society riding the tides of historical change through the eyes of a Russian family and their extended circle. The events of the play, fragmented into different time frames and points of view, have not been dramatized in such a manner as to allow much audience identification and, as a result, the play underwhelms and it's hard to care. The introduction of characters and relationships is often confused and confusing, with the first act narration of offstage events often involving plot points and situations not clarified till Act Two. And after three hours, to have all the philosophical and historical ruminations of the play reach its conclusion in the rather cliched tradition of yet another end-of-empire story seems staggeringly anti-climactic and not particularly worth the effort. I have tickets to the next two installments but I seriously doubt that I'll force myself to endure more of this non-event.

  • Lavi Soloway gives qualified praise:

    After dinner, we walked over to Lincoln Center to immerse ourselves in Stoppard. On the one hand you could fairly say that Coast of Utopia is a lot of "blah, blah, blah" with very little plot (of course so is life, if you're not careful). There were some zingers, though. The problem were the long bits that were challenging to follow if you hadn't read up on your undergraduate philosophy, or have some passing understanding of Russian history of the period. Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup command the stage for much of the play and they both gave extremely energtic and convincing performances. (Considering that Hawke is playing an anarchist, his discipline is notable.) Amy Irving and Martha Plimpton were also stand outs in their roles as mother and sister to Hawke's spoiled aristocrat, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin's father, a somewhat grumpy feudal landowner who is fast losing patience with his son's disobedience, was excellent. A shame for David Manis--he gave a masterful performance--who is the understudy as he will be on stage only until the official opening on November 27, when Richard Easton returns. (Easton's illness delayed the opening after he collapsed on stage mid-show last month.) One of the more memorable lines is reserved for him, "You have turned your sisters' faces away from the light of parental love, and poisoned their minds with liberal sophistries dressed up as idealism." Sitting in the center of the fourth row, I could clearly see the actors' faces as they grimaced, cried, shrieked, and seemed to effortlessly extemporize. With Crudup and Hawke mostly downstage center all night, it was a special treat to be so close.

    The question remains: do we see Parts Two and Three? That's another five hour long history lesson about ideology and love. We'll have to think about that...

  • Some enthusiasm from Rui:

    [...] i went to the lincoln centre with A to watch tom stoppard's voyage. it was so so so good. philosophical and poignant and just brilliant. oh and ethan hawke played michael bakunin. plus, our tickets only cost twenty bucks each because of a nifty student programme thingum. woah. (: i love stoppard. (: [...]

  • And more from Patrick:

    This first play of Tom Stoppard's ambitious trilogy concerning late 19th century Russian politics and philosophy, is a stunner, a rich feast for playlovers that made me ravenous for the two to come (in December and January, respectively). As I have resisted reading the plays in advance, the superstructure of the trilogy is not yet clear to me, but I can say that this first third, as sensuously staged by Jack O'Brien, has the sweep and the detail of a leisurely-paced epic novel. Stoppard's dialogue made my ears prick up, O'Brien's direction quickened my senses. There are a couple of performances I found off-putting but, as neither is major in this first play, I'd rather just say that this is mostly a tremendous ensemble. Standing out among the pack are a surprisingly bold Ethan Hawke, who is taking big chances that pay off, and a captivating Billy Crudup, whose physical work here is remarkable: I think these are the best performances I've seen on stage from either.

  • New post at the LCT blog. Shipwreck rehearsals are starting, Richard Easton's returned to a warm reception and will be performing next week, and there's some commentary on the role of women in the plays:

    [...] The closest the play's women get to something more liberating is reading George Sand - in other words, a world that is fictional. The chief exception to Utopia's climate of feminine compliance is represented by a scene in Shipwreck between Natalie Herzen (Jennifer Ehle) and Maria Ogarev (Amy Irving). Maria has left her husband, Nicholas Ogarev, and gone to Paris to undertake a more bohemian existence. Next to her, Natalie, for all her high-flown revolutionary idealism, seems almost quaint.

    This scene, which is one of my favorites in Utopia, reminds me of something Tom Stoppard said during an early rehearsal. Namely: how it is one of the paradoxes of 19th-century radicalism that many of its leading proponents failed to shed their bourgeois conventions, and remained beholden to a way of life that, to us, can appear hidebound.

    There's mention of said ripping scene at Martha Plimpton's as well- look in the comments.
  • Wonders will never cease: Coast of Utopia fanfiction. And it's not isolated!
  • Friday, November 03, 2006

    The soul of wit

    Voyage reports from Greg, Kay, davei2000, Krebsman and swingkidpt. dramedy expects an extension of the run. Also, here are the dramaturg's notes (and part of an essay on Herzen by Brendan Lemon) from the LCT site.

    Footlights has posters for The Coast of Utopia and Design for Living you can buy.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    More Voyage reporting

    From StagestruckNYC, EdieH reports the Voyage experience.

    [oops, that was a double post. Some new stuff:
  • Utopia by the numbers by NY Mag. eg. "Cat roles: 1". Also a photo of the enormo stage there.
  • A couple of discussions and (mixed) reviews on Voyage at All That Chat.
  • BroadwayWorld has box office stats for this week. Going well.]