Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Utopia is like Marmite


I have read quite a few reviews of this show over the past few months, and they have increasingly led me to one conclusion - that The Coast of Utopia is like Marmite: you either love it or you hate it.

While there are some drifters around the middle, the majority of people seem to fall into one of two camps - those who would happily set up home in the Vivian Beaumont, and those who wish they'd been sedated before entering it. Utopia critics are like the weather - you never know what they're going to do...

From the 'Love It' camp:

Terry Teachout of gives a big thumbs up to the show and hits the nail on the head for me with this first paragraph:

I am in no doubt whatsoever about the merits of Jack O’Brien’s production. It is a sublime work of theatrical art, a commingling of play and performance so complete that no one lucky enough to see it will ever again read Mr. Stoppard’s words without remembering how Mr. O’Brien and his colleagues brought them to hot-blooded life.

Small wonder that Lincoln Center has carried off the dazzling trick of making a box-office smash out of a sequence of plays about a cabal of obscure intellectuals who talk at intimidating length about ideas of considerable complexity. “The Coast of Utopia” is many things, but first—if not foremost—it is a rattling good show….

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 anti-utopian 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.

Markaley goes against the tide by proclaiming part three's superiority over the other two:

Tonight I saw the third (and final) part of Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center. It was the only one of the three that I really enjoyed all the way through. The others I enjoyed parts of and could appreciate the rest, but this was definitely my favorite.

Clive Barnes meanwhile, of the New York Post, (very) briefly uses the words 'thrilling' and 'epic', before giving the show four big stars.

Nobody from the 'Hate it' camp seems to have voiced their opinions this week, so moving away from the Marmite analogy...

  • Capacity last week was 90% - so slightly down on the previous week but still up on all other plays bar one. Yes, Ms. Redgrave eclipsed Utopia once again, but given the fact that it has been going since October, I would think coming a close numero deux is still pretty impressive...
  • There are several fantastic things up for grabs as part of the HighTide Festival this month. Lot 5, interestingly, is Mr Stoppard's signed Coast of Utopia jumper (words printed in Russian) while Lot 8 is the full trilogy also signed by the man himself. Lot 10 is the aforementioned annotated Utopia script, on which there is a reserve of £1050. (NB: Contrary to what we previously thought, this is actually the current New York script, and is dated 25th August 2006. Click here for details. Nobody has currently bid, so if you have considerably more roubles than me, it'd be a fantastically lovely thing to buy!) All these goodies are on auction at until Tuesday April 3rd.

  • At meanwhile, there are eight Coast of Utopia window cards available at more of a serf's budget. (serf = me)

  • In other news, the fabulous Ms Plimpton will be appearing alongside a host of other well-known faces at P.S. 122's gala in honor of actor-playwright Eric Bogosian, on the day after life ends as we know it. (May 14th, that is...)

  • Utopia co-set designer Bob Crowley meanwhile, talks about his use of "The Kabuki Drop" in the aforementioned play The Year of Magical Thinking, which opened this week. Another member of Utopia's ultra-talented creative cohort is also mentioned briefly. Mr Crowley went along to opening night with NY Times fashion critic friend Cathy Horyn. She talks about the night here.

  • Photo-wise, USA Today has a lovely one of Mr Stoppard and the five leading men, while Playbill has a whole group - five of which I've never seen.

Incidentally, with the arrival of Frost/Nixon in New York yesterday from my side of the pond, there are now three members of the cast of Wilde appearing simultaneously on Broadway. Now we just need to get Mr Fry and Mr Law over here. Thoughts, anyone?!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Дженнифер Ель

  • Babel the above and you get "Dzhennifer Fir Tree", how cool is that. It's from a photo-riddle comp at Jein Gallaher's blog (in Russian) with pics of Ms Fir Tree from the Tony anniversary days.
  • Utopians on the town: Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup and Brian F. O'Byrne will be hosting the Drama League lunch on May 11. Tix are available, call (212) 244-9494. Mr Hawke, Josh Hamilton and Amy Irving were also spotted at The Year of Magical Thinking.
  • At BizBuzz, there's a long, enthusiastic chronicle from last week's Utopia marathon. Here's a description of one of my favourite scenes in Shipwreck:
    [...] Jennifer Ehle plays Herzens wife, who justifies an affair with Herzen’s best friend on the grounds that she has so much love for both of them, the love should be allowed to flourish freely. The ultimate disaster visited upon the Herzens and their friends brings about a stunning final scene in which philosophy and human drama seamlessly meld. It is truly transcendent. [...]
  • More love for the marathon from David's blog. Verdict:
    [...] What can I say? Watching top actors at the top of their form, even Ethan Hawke was good (not great, but good…), it was a stirring day of theater I will never forget. If you have have a chance to see any of them, do, and if you can only see one, make it "Shipwreck". [...]
  • Was everyone at that marathon? This is Clarence Carter for Reverse Shot.
    [...] This is not to say that his nautically inflected trilogy (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage) about the exploits of the erstwhile crew of Russian thinkers and would-be revolutionaries circling around the lesser-known figure of Alexander Herzon doesn’t falter or lag across is nearly nine hours of length. This is largely to be expected. But even when the humor flattens out, the expository dialogue grows unwieldy, and historical accuracy jumps the shark, the entire project coasts (pun intended) on a forceful perspective and historical sweep that’s all too rare these days in any art form. I can’t imagine not seeing Utopia in a single afternoon—the bits that rhyme across plays would most likely be forgotten, and more importantly, the salvage act Stoppard performs on his group would be far less apparent, and less affecting because of it. [...]
  • Broadway & Me laments the NY Times' grudge against Utopia/Stoppard as evinced by the reading list and Isherwood articles. But, um...what about this, this, this, this, this and this? Nevertheless, a nice defence of the show, and some more star-spotting: Lauren Bacall and historian Arthur Schlesinger were at the performance of Voyage that he attended. And there's this unusual analogy:
    [...] And yes, there are major philosophical issues to ponder like the role of literature in cultural identity and the role of rich men in proletarian revolutions, but there are also laugh out-loud jokes and who's-bedding-whom storylines that are as accessible as those on Desperate Housewives. [...]
  • Leonard Jacobs of Backstage reviews Salvage. Positive overall.
  • ALR of A Collection of Tomes gives The River King 3.5 stars and mentions the hair colour and accent thing.
  • eBay has auctions for tickets to Shipwreck and the March 31st marathon at or below cost.
  • Also up for auction is a script of Utopia annotated by Tom Stoppard, presumably from the London production.
  • Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal names all three parts of Utopia in his list of Broadway recommendations.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"A visual and verbal feast"

At long last, some more theatre-goers have posted their opinions on Utopia in the NY Times Reader Review section.

The most laudatory of the two is from mapbrook, a marathon survivor, who describes the show as 'a visual and verbal feast':

I saw the trilogy all in one day, and I am still reeling with excitement. Don't fear the text, the wordiness or the history--it's great theater performed by an extraordinary cast, directed by a superb director and designed by a top-notch team of designers. It's easy to follow and understand. Theater events like this come around so rarely. Don't miss it. And don't eat or drink too much before the show. You'll want to hear and see everything this banquet offers.

Meanwhile, francisdyer went to the Saturday 21st matinee performance of Shipwreck. There is some negative discussion about Kolya, including a quite amusing vilification of his little spinning top. Overall though, this reviewer gives the show 4 out of 5 stars and implies that it clearly is great, even if he doesn't quite feel it.

This reviewer also wrote about Voyage for which there was a little more positivity but still an element of puzzlement and confusion.

Also, on this page of the NY Times reader reviews, I have just noticed a comment made by someone on November 30 2006. In response to previous reviews, this person used the title 'Ravishing' and wrote:

I just do not understand all the negative comments! The set design more than compensates for the actors expressing complex historical Russian experiences with their American acting idiom.

And what was the reviewer's name? Bruce Pask. Would that by any chance be Bruce Pask the set designer? Twin brother of Utopia set designer Scott Pask? I think it is a safe assumption! It goes to show that these reviews are read by at least some of the people involved! (And responded to - well done Mr Pask!)

There is also the odd Utopia fan spreading joy over at After describing the show as 'the most important theatrical event of the past 60 years', here is what else P. Bonoff "Yaleman" had to say earlier this month on the show and its legendary writer:
Stoppard's eloquence and wit are only the beginning. The subject is monumental and speaks to our times. Wisdom emerges at the perfect pace. Catharsis at the end. I have seen the trilogy and will see it twice more in marathon experiences. Reading the text beforehand enhances the understanding of the contest and of what takes place. If you don't recognize the importance of The Decembrists, please review some history before seeing and/or reading the trilogy. If you don't know at least a bit about Tsar Alexander, please look at wikipedia and go from there. Very timely and relevant and ominous. And if you read the inspiring text either before or after the experience, the catharsis will be even more powerful. If you haven't seen the epic, this is a must-read.

Thank you, Tom Stoppard (and ensemble) for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "Rock & Roll" goes further. IMO, this is a transformational work which materially enhances Stoppard's prospects for already likely Nobel Prize. What next? What a genius. Unforgettable lessons to be learned dramatically.

But, there are two sides to every story, and E.Rabinovich posts the largely negative letter he/she sent to the New York Times in response to Ben Brantley's review.

Meanwhile, if you are not into online purchasing, Alexander Herzen's My Past and Thoughts is on sale in the New York Public Library bookshop should you happen to be in the vicinity without a lot to carry.
Lastly, if you fancy being talked to for half an hour, here is KCRW 's 'Politics of Culture' radio programme about Utopia and the subject matter behind it. It was recorded just after Voyage opened, and is hosted by Michael Silverblatt and Ruth Seymour. Largely elementary, but interesting nonetheless.

Monday, March 26, 2007

1 of 18

  • In the Winston-Salem Journal, an article about the 35th anniversary of the Creative Learning Center for Very Young Children. There's mention of Ms Ehle as one of its first alumni.
    [...] Agnes David, a retired private kindergarten teacher who donated a watercolor painting to the silent auction, called the school "the best children's program around." The program started with [founder Othella] Johnson's own sons, Nathan and Matthew, actress Jennifer Ehle and two other children. Today about 45 children, ages 1 1/2 to 5, are enrolled, and five other teachers work with Johnson. [...]
  • These BroadwayWorlders report from the latest marathon: an absolute ball by all accounts. Sez D2:
    This is why I prefer live theater above all other art forms. THE COAST OF UTOPIA, all twelve glorious hours of it, was one of the most thrilling theatrical events I've ever witnessed in over 30 years of theater-going - a true masterpiece where all the pieces come together into one seamless, enthralling whole. Everything about it, from the design, to the performances, to the direction and of course the writing, is exceptional, and it all adds up to one exhilarating experience that should not be missed by anyone who really cares about theater and the ideas and emotions it can inspire.
    Note this little exchange in the thread:
    jewishboy: D2- didn't you love Jennifer Ehle at curtain call?
    She and Martha Plimpton were laughing hysterically throughout the curtain call tonight. Plimpton also tripped on the hem of her dress as she ran off.
    Among the marathon survivors were Meryl Streep, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tony Roberts, Penny Fuller and Clare Danes, as spotted by D2.
  • Eileen also loved the occasion as well, recounting how camaraderie grew among the audience members.
  • Dafna's another happy Vegemite marathoner. Mention:
    [...] None of the women played roles that went through all three plays, but Jennifer Ehle (I've seen her in "The Real Thing" on stage since then, but she's still Elizabeth to Colin Firth's Darcy in my brain) was definitely the lead actress -- she played Herzen's wife in the second play and his nanny/housekeeper in the third and one of the key Bakunin sisters in the first. She was also great -- and as much fun as it is to see someone play the same character over time it's almost more fun to see them play different ones -- as the nanny in the third play, for example, even though most of her scenes were again with O'Byrne, she made you forget they'd been playing husband and wife just two hours before. [...]
  • ThePowerThatIs also ran the marathon and recommends the show to everyone who isn't averse to Mr Hawke, or names ending in -sky or -ev.
  • Can't please everyone- author Gwen Davis walked out midway through Shipwreck at the marathon. Before the best part!
    At Condition Critical is an audio review of Utopia by Bill Marx, mixed-to-negative.
  • June Cohen saw Voyage and was disappointed about the lack of meatiness of the female roles, but was impressed by the production as a whole.
  • Ethan Stanislawski saw the same play with his history professor dad. Verdict?
    [...] After the first act, my father stormed out of the theater—and went straight to the box office, to buy tickets to the two other plays in the trilogy. [...]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Coastly Business

The above is part of the exterior of the Lincoln. See the big Utopia poster on the right-hand side? The latest today...

Live Broadway has some fascinating data on Broadway shows from the League of American Theatres and Producers. It is updated weekly and dates back to the mid eighties. You can search the information by show, by date and by theatre. Here are the main pieces of info about a certain play...

Total grossings
  • Last week (ending Mar 18th) Utopia took $576,164. This figure obviously varies according to the number of performances in any given week, and has fluctuated from $200k to over $600k in early December.


  • Utopia seems to be doing very well on this front. Last week it managed to fill 92% of the Vivian Beaumont's 1,047 seats, therefore beating all Broadway plays bar one, namely The Year of Magical Thinking, which achieved 95%. (Funnily, I was a statistic in both these cases).

  • Overall, Utopia's capacity is almost always in the nineties, with the odd week in the high eighties. The most it has ever been is 98%, achieved in the weeks ending Jan 21st and Nov 12th. The lowest it has ever been was one complete anomaly of 43% (perhaps linked to the fact that there was just one performance that week).

Average Paid

  • As those of you who have seen it will know, the full ticket price for Utopia is $100. But the average that theatre-goers pay seems to vary week-to-week. It dropped to $47 in early December, but last week was a more hefty $85 (so I definitely got a bargain with my two tickets, which were $20 and $30 respectively!)

The Vivian Beaumont

  • You can also conduct a search solely by theatre. Looking at the Beaumont specifically, Utopia's capacity has largely soared above that of the most recent previous productions such as The Light in the Piazza and The Rivals. I am not exactly knowledgeable about this sort of thing, but I'm guessing that will at least be partly attributable to the status of the respective playwrights and the publicity involved for each production.

Interesting stuff.

In other news, the New York Post briefly urges people to see Utopia in the next six weeks, describing it as both "wonderfully acted" and "one of the truly epic theater pieces of our time".

Meanwhile, Brendan Lemon 's latest post on the LCT site talks about a recent audience member even more significant to Utopia than a former President - a direct descendant of Herzen himself!

Lastly, the mother of young actress Anabel talks briefly of her daughter's role in Utopia. Anabel is not mentioned on the Utopia site cast list as yet, but it looks like she will be playing Tata and Olga from today until the end of the month at least. All the best to her.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Goodies galore

Mark your diaries for Sunday April 22nd everyone, that's when the Working in the Theatre seminar is being first broadcast at 5pm on CUNY-TV. Guestlist:
Jennifer Ehle - Actor
Josh Hamilton - Actor
Ethan Hawke - Actor
Amy Irving - Actor
Theodore S. Chapin - Moderator
Sondra Gilman - Host
Douglas Leeds - Host
The show will be downloadable after the broadcast and will be replayed on TV later on as well. Check the schedule for dates. Also now up at ATW is a video of the seminar that includes Daniel Swee, casting director for Utopia.

Old Faithful has yet another feature on Utopia, this time about Mark Bennett's gorgeous incidental music. Good news: there are audio clips! We've mirrored them for posterity. All the below are mp3 files.
[edit: here's the ATC thread Kate mentioned where someone says a Utopia soundtrack CD is in the works]

The recent Leonard Lopate radio interview made mention of others with Tom Stoppard and Jack O'Brien that I don't think we've posted before. There's another Stoppard one at Studio 360 as well. On the LCT blog Brendan Lemon interviews Josh Hamilton.

Blogs: a handy timeline of the French Revolution(s) at the girl works, another foodie-oriented review of the Utopia marathon at Give me food, a so-so Russian review of Voyage (Babel it), and Paul Broussard rates the marathon as "one of the all-time best theatrical experiences of my life". There's a tally borrowed from Variety at All That Chat for Salvage:
Cost of Utopia: Salvage
of 17 reviews:
11 pro:
Post, Times, Daily News, USA Today, Sun, AP, New York Mag, Newhouse, WSJ, NY1, Newsday
3 con:
Bergen Record, Gannett, Bloomberg
2 mixed:
Village Voice, New Yorker
More BroadwayWorld discussion of Tony categories, where MargoChanning says that Ms Ehle could go either featured or lead, but the former would be better. And things are looking good - at least one Tony voter enjoyed Utopia .

A fan just tipped me off to this: in Verve's production notes PDF for Alpha Male, there's mention of a film called Broken Thread in Jennifer Ehle's bio.
[...] Cinema roles followed, including Constance Lloyd in Wilde (1997), Kevin McKidd's girlfriend in Bedrooms & Hallways (1998), and a head-turning performance as the caustic, chain-smoking single mother in British comedy This Year's Love (1999). Recent films include Broken Thread, Michael Clayton with George Clooney and most recently Pride and Glory with Ed Norton and Colin Farrell. [...]
It's an India-UK co-production starring Linus Roache, which is curiously similar to Road to the Sky. Could be just a mix-up.

Finally, some left-field randomness. On YouTube, the global repository of wack, Utopia kids Kat Peters and Sophie Rudin do the opening monologue of Salvage. Also from the random corner is an interview with a vampire (oh alright, a novelist who writes about vampires) who enjoys the right version of Pride and Prejudice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Enjoy the show, Mr President?

I had the Sagittarian good fortune of being present at the aforementioned Wednesday night performance of Shipwreck. It is the third time I've seen part two, and the audience was the best yet (even before the Clinton-ized intermission). After it, it was electric. Beautiful summer-like evening too. Fabulous.

I noticed a few changes in dialogue and direction since I last saw it back in December, but nothing major. The only examples I can think of off-hand are the George/Natalie/Natasha scene in Act One (no "And you were one of hers") and the Natalie/Emma/Herzen scene in Act Two (Natalie sits after "What strength I have..." not before). Whether these were just natural changes on the night or deliberate alterations, I am of course not qualified or knowledgeable enough to say. But great show, whichever.

Going back a few light years to This Year's Love, here is what Ms Ehle had to say on this fab film while making it, taken from the interview on the DVD:

I thought the script captured something that I hadn't read before - a side of London that I hadn't seen portrayed in a film before. Its very urban, young and sexy and funny. The characters aren't particularly healthy, watch them make mistakes again and again.
I thought it was very funny and very well-observed. There was just something about it that I really loved.

Talented writer David Kane also praises Ms Ehle's attempt at single mum Sophie:
Jennifer Ehle had to play a character that was quite selfish and cold, and a lot of people wouldn't have wanted to play that kind of part or that kind of character.

Well she did, and what a good job she did too. That's all folks.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Coast of ecstasy

  • Variety's Marilyn Stasio reports from the Utopia marathon where Scott Parkinson substituted for Billy Crudup. Much gush, eg. "near-religious experience".
  • Leila notes the abundance of scrims in the show and had an only-in-NY sorta night.
  • Discussion about discount tix at BroadwayWorld.
  • Slightly tangential, but why not, a bit of June 2006 nostalgia.
    [...] I didn’t like this production of Talk Radio any more than I liked the movie. But watching Schreiber made the evening worthwhile. Like Jennifer Ehle and Brian F. O’Byrne, currently onstage in Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy, Schreiber is a true Broadway star and seeing him in his element is for me always time well spent. [...]
  • There's an answer from IMDB about the scar thing mentioned on the tagboard. Take it with a ton of NaCl though, have not heard of any other sources for this story.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Special Agent Ehle

  • The Leonard Lopate radio interview with Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle and Brian F. O'Byrne is now online. Here's the mp3 or listen to the streaming audio.
  • Amy Irving's Downstage Centre interview can be listened to online as well.
  • BroadwayWorld reports that Coast of Utopia casting director Daniel Swee will be in one of the American Theatre Wing's Working in the Theatre seminars. The first screening is this Sunday March 18th at 5pm.
  • The LCT blog has been updated by Brendan Lemon. The topic is scene cuts and the departure of David Pittu.
  • Martha Plimpton's blog has new posts with passing mention of Utopia and there's a Salvage slideshow.
  • Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea were spotted at Shipwreck; the audience gave him a standing ovation. You might recall that they also went to Macbeth...
  • Mention of Utopia in the Tastemakers column in Forbes.
  • Variety's Liz Smith on the show:
    [...] Went again to catch some of Tom Stoppard's panoramic epic "The Coast of Utopia" and must say that Jack O'Brien has out-directed, out-witted, out-staggered us with his masterful presentation. The 44-person cast is brilliant. [...]
  • New York Post's summary:
    "THE COAST OF UTOPIA": Four stars Tom Stoppard's thrilling trilogy of 19th-century Russian activists and thinkers, together with their lovers and friends, makes up one of the truly epic theater pieces of our time. Not to be missed.
  • Jack O'Brien advises budding directors in the NY Sun.
  • Indietheatre has a meh review of Salvage but singles out Ms Ehle's "terrific" performance as Malwida.
  • At All That Chat there's a thread about the marathon where Scott Parkinson subbed for Billy Crudup as Belinsky. Most people think he did a fine job. Ms Ehle is also praised for all three roles. Another thread has Tony predictions (Featured Actress).
  • BroadwayWorld forumers discuss their favourite play of the trilogy - Shipwreck is ahead at the moment.
  • Elsewhere in blogland, there's love for Utopia at The Artist Formerly Known As Kay's LJ and Kushal's blog, accidental stagedoorage by Jolene, some motherly pride at Stacey's blog, another verbose variation on the snob hit theme at A War of Position and Movement, and a mostly positive review of The River King at Direct to Video Reviews.
  • Say what?
    [...] Colin decides to modernise Hildegard of Bingen instead. Hildegard is played briefly by Jennifer Ehle. [...]
    Jennifer Ehle has a short but pivotal role as the pro-Parkerist anti-terrorist expert. [...]
    Jennifer Ehle has a small but fast paced role as a translater of Egyptian.


Fangirls and boys, tune your radios to WNYC 93.9 FM or 820 AM at 12.30pm today, Friday March 16th! Jennifer Ehle is going to be on Leonard Lopate's show. The program will be available online later in the afternoon. The blurb on the site:
Three Stars of the Coast of Utopia
Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle, and Brian F. O’Byrne discuss the challenges of performing in Tom Stoppard’s epic trilogy The Coast of Utopia.
Unsolicited tips are totally awesome, many thanks to WNYC. By the way, apologies from Abi and I for unscheduled breaks and delays in programming, the result of technical problems and jetsetting etc (Abi is visiting Gotham this week). We'll get our act together soon, deities and ISPs permitting. News trawl coming tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Trusty dot-points

  • John Heilpern of the NY Observer remains unconvinced by Coast of Utopia after seeing Salvage (note seating conspiracy theory!).
  • Two reviews at Entertainment Weekly. Greg Kirschling found Salvage anticlimatic while his colleague Thom Geier opines thusly on the marathon:
    [...] Seeing all three plays in rapid succession, it's easier to tease out connections between the plays. You recognize, for instance, that when Jennifer Ehle's Natalie Herzen extols love as a universal ideal to which humans inevitably fall short in Shipwreck (Part 2), she's echoing similar comments that Billy Crudup's literary critic Vissarion Belinsky made in Voyage (Part 1). Ehle's speech — which occurs during a conversation with Amy Irving, playing the practical-minded Maria, an artist's muse in Paris and estranged wife of a Russian poet — comes during a rare moment when Stoppard allows the women to bring the dorm-room philosophizing of the play firmly into the domestic realm. By the time of the concluding play, Salvage, Stoppard's liberal use of political and philosophical tropes sometimes fails to blend with the pile-up of romantic entanglements and personal intrigue. But in the end, the overall impact of the play is stunning. [...]
  • San Jose Mercury News' Karen D'Souza gives sensible advice in her review of the trilogy:
    [...] Some have been quick to point out that this may not be Stoppard's finest work (actually, my money is still on ``Arcadia''), but surely that is beside the point for all but academics. Caveats be damned. This is mandatory viewing for theater buffs.

    Don't be a lemming, though. If you only want to go because it's a snob hit, don't bother. Go because theater is more than singalong gimmicks, special effects barrages and merchandising juggernauts. Go because the theater can make your mind and heart gasp as one. [...]

    and there's this mention:

    [...] The women they love do not get equal stage time, but they offer fascinating portraits as they struggle for personal sovereignty in a man's world. The elegant Jennifer Ehle, the chameleon-like Amy Irving and the tart Martha Plimpton all do incisive work. [...]

  • Robert Feldberg interviews child actress Kat Peters for She's the only company member of Russian descent.
  • A press release about CUNY's "Women in Theatre" series says that Utopia dramaturg Anne Cattaneo will be interviewed on the program..
  • Did someone say backlash? Disgruntled open letter to Tom Stoppard, further snob-hit exposition by Jeremy of An American in Cambridge, a Dear John from Just Shows to Go You, and Robert Cashill finds Utopia a case of diminishing returns
  • Random but cool: sketches of the real-life leading characters in Utopia.
  • Among the zillions of Pride and Prejudice mentions in the blogosphere, I thought this was cute: enjoying the mini-series en famille.
  • Note the new poll on the right hand column asking for your rating of Utopia. Here are the results from the previous poll where the question was whether you are seeing the play(s).
    Yes, one of the marathons 9% (11)
    Yes, all 3 plays separately 38% (44)
    Yes, 1-2 plays 11% (13)
    No, unable to go 40% (46)
    No, don't want to 2% (2)
  • The banner upstairs is a present from Mez. We're not quite sure what to do with it, so thought we'd share it so y'all can think up creative ways to use it (bumper sticker? tattoo?).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Anti-bacterial underwear recommended

  • Michael Schulman of the New Yorker has a piece documenting the Feb 24th marathon (that explains this post's title).
  • mandrakan also reports about a marathon, as does morigian.
  • According to Playbill, Amy Irving's Downstage Center interview will be airing March 9 at 6 PM, March 10 at noon, March 11 at 7 PM and March 14 at midnight.
  • Celia Wren of Commonweal reviews the Coast of Utopia trilogy.
  • Michael Sommers of the Star-Ledger writes about curtain calls, with cool quotage from Martha Plimpton:
    [...] Even more striking is when the cycle is performed on a marathon day. No bows are taken after the first two plays. When the trilogy concludes, the original curtain call template is augmented by another downstage march in three rows. Then the company bends on one knee with heads lowered and a hand over their hearts.

    Plimpton notes several colleagues feared the gesture might seem "corny," but the results provoked "a massive emotional experience."

    "We could finally break the membrane between actors and audience and express our appreciation for going through this with us for nine hours," says Plimpton. "The roof came off the place. We wept." [...]
  • NY Times' summary:
    Lincoln Center Theater’s brave, gorgeous, sprawling and ultimately exhilarating production of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy about intellectuals errant in 19th-century Russia. A testament to the seductive powers of narrative theater, directed with hot and cool canniness by Jack O’Brien and featuring a starry cast (Brian F. O’Byrne, Jennifer Ehle, Martha Plimpton, Josh Hamilton and Ethan Hawke, among others) in a tasty assortment of roles.
  • Trivia: apparently a character from Lost is named for Bakunin. Neato.
  • susabela of All That Chat saw Voyage and thought Ms Ehle's performance one of the standouts. Winnie So watched the same play and also dug it.
  • David Pittu (the awesome singing servant) gets some love from Steve on Broadway. He's going to be in LoveMusik.
  • The River King reviews in ingles and Spanish. The former is specifically unfavourable.
  • Forgot to post this before. Ann, who attended both fanborees (December and February), kindly gave me permission to share her thoughts on Salvage:
    I saw all 3 parts of The Coast of Utopia last weekend. I loved it. While I think "Salvage" would be hard to see without seeing the first 2, when you see all three of them, you realize that you have just had an incredible theater experience. There was a standing ovation from a large part of the audience after "Salvage". It wasn't that it was the best, but it was a reaction to the entire production. I am really looking forward to seeing the marathon in April.

    Jennifer's role was much smaller in this one than her Shipwreck role, but she is there when it opens and for a good part of the first act. The fact that her character is so distinctly different from the ones she played before, demonstrates what a good actress she is.
  • Spider-Man 3 preview on YouTube - there's a Rosemary Harris scene.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

All about Billy...

Due to a lack of info on Ms Ehle, this is a Billy Crudup related post!

Firstly is the news that the brilliant Mr C was unwell on Saturday and so was unable to take part in Marathon Numero Deux. His grateful yet understandably trepidacious understudy, Scott Parkinson, gives a moving account on the LCT site of what Saturday March 3rd was like for him. By the sound of it he did a fantastic job given the somewhat impromptu circumstances, and although I wasn't there, I have no doubt that he did. So bravo Mr Parkinson.

As promised, here is the link to Mr C's ATW Downstage Center radio interview. It is a very interesting interview, but in case you don't have time to listen to the full 49 minutes and 34 seconds, here are some excerpts:

On the character of Belinsky, he says:
[...] he is the only one of the group who is not privileged, and he finds his way into the group by sheer force of will and intelligence and rudeness [...]
Meanwhile, socializing with the real Belinsky appears to have been a barrel of laughs:
[...] there were stories about parties he would absolutely ruin by pontificating in the middle, and tearing everybody to shreds for supporting a system that left Russia centuries behind the ever-evolving Europe [...]
Mr Crudup also explains what attracted him to the role:

The first thing was the writing. Tom is one of the pre-eminent playwrights of our time...

There were sentimental reasons for me too - Lincoln Center was where I got my start with Arcadia and with Tom Stoppard...and I'd been wanting to work with Jack O'Brien for some time...

Belinsky was a role I just couldn't turn down. [...]

He also talks in length about his transition from 'goofball' and 'class clown' to Broadway star. Included is a story about fluffing up his first Arcadia audition and then being fired from a film in California, before everything turned out for the better and he landed the play after a second audition. I implore you to take a listen. Its gripping stuff.

And to put the cherry on top of the metaphorical cake, guess who is next to be interviewed for Downstage Center? ...... Ms Amy Irving!!!

New seminar

Straight from the American Theatre Wing horse's mouth (merci muchly!):
Keep your eye out for our upcoming "Working In The Theatre" video with
cast members from "The Coast of Utopia" including Jennifer Ehle.
Not up yet, but yay!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Five links totally count as a post

On Bakunin's anarchism, on the marathon, on Salvage (possibly a repeat?), on The River King in Spanish (Meryl Streep parallel) and English (re. American-ness).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

More as promised

  • Chapter 3 of Brendan Lemon's essay about Alexander Herzen is up at the LCT site.
  • has a Word of Mouth review of Salvage with video. At the same place, John Simon asks whether Utopia marks the return of epic theatre (verdict: nope).
  • The second marathon is on today. Again, bon voyage/courage to all! Chowhound people discuss eating on marathon days - go for small meals, long walks and ditch alcohol in favour of caffeine, is the advice.
  • Terry Teachout excerpts part of his Washing Post rave review of Salvage on his blog About Last Night.
  • Ricky Patterson found Ms Ehle's performance riveting, not so the rest of Utopia.
  • This Yale guy's photoblog documents his ordeal getting to Shipwreck, which he was confused by. (I don't think the "JE" he refers to is same as ours...)
  • The calendar featuring the dozen actresses of Utopia is now available online or in the lobby.
  • Jaime of surplus doesn't like Salvage as much as the other two parts, finding that the story gets lost in the ideas.
  • Even the WSJ Law Blog manages to name-drop Utopia.
  • Wrote to the LCT on Feb 17 asking when the transcript from the Platform Series Q&A with Tom Stoppard would be online, they said within two weeks, ie. now. It's not up yet, but watch this space.
  • The River King came out in Spain on Friday March 2nd. Cineando gives it 2 stars (en español, por supuesto). Cap below is from there.

From strength to strength

Greetings all!

Curtain Up has a brilliant extensive section on all things Utopian, amalgamating reviews of all three shows in the process. Here are some of the best bits:

Overall they give Salvage two definite thumbs up, and are keen to dispel any damage done by negative reviewers:

Ignore comments you may have heard to the effect that this final episode is less dramatic and even more talky than its predecessors. Sure, it's talky, but it's also the most human of the three parts and the tendency to speechify is offset by the fact that those speeches include some of Stoppard's most memorable and eloquent dialogue.

Several of the cast members are lauded, not least Ms Ehle's efforts over the entire trilogy:

Ehle has gone from strength to strength, first as the tubercular Bakunin sister, next as Herzen's passionate wife and now as the very proper and yet also passionate German governess.

Later, when mentioning orderly governess Malwida, they describe Ehle's portrayal as:

...a wonderfully prim counterpart to the children's dead mother. ...

They also mention what I have to admit is one of my favourite bits of the shows:

...even the curtain call, with all those actors marching forward and backward to take their bows, makes Salvage and the whole Coast of Utopia an extraordinary experience.

On a more practical note, they also give specifics on the marathon schedules:

Part 1 starts 11am ends about 1:40 pm; Part 2 starts 3:30pm ends 6:00; Part 3 Starts 8pm should end around 10:30.

Barbara and Scott Siegel of Talkin' Broadway are disappointed with Part three, but despite that still say The Coast of Utopia its fullness is still a rather remarkable piece of theater. ...

They do laud the acting in Part three however. No specific mention of Ms Ehle, but Mr O'Byrne is given an enormous amount of gold stars:

Brian O'Byrne is that rare actor who can remain grounded in humanity while making bald-faced speeches when almost any other actor would be smothered in pomposity. When he gets to play scenes rather than talk politics, he is astonishing. There is one scene in Part 3 when he kisses Martha Plimpton on the cheek. In less than a fraction of a second there is a look that passes between them that has the net effect of 100,000 volts of electricity. It is unmistakable yet it happens so fast that you catch your breath. It is an amazing moment of theatrical legerdemain.

Ms Plimpton and Mr Hamilton are also praised in passing.

Christine Kearney of gives a brief re-cap of Salvage reviews including a few new quotes by Richard Easton.

There is also a plethora of Coast-cast related Charlie Rose interviews. Mr Crudup has done 7 (but I can only find 6 of them), Mr Hawke 5, and Mr O'Byrne 1. Here are links to them all:
Billy Crudup (May 05, Oct 04, Dec 03, May 02, Dec 01, Mar 00)
Ethan Hawke (Apr 05, Jan 05, Mar 04, Nov 01, Jan 98)
Brian F. O'Byrne (Apr 05)

They are all great, but I have a particular fondness for the former. I'm ashamed to say that when I was fortunate enough to meet Mr Crudup, I barely knew his name. Now, I have seen him in numerous films and interviews, he is quite clearly a very special guy. He has a wonderfully effervescent personality. He impresses me. A lot. I lament the fact he is not in Salvage.

Meanwhile, Billy Crudup's long-awaited ATW Downstage Center radio interview was broadcast last night. It is not yet available online, but it will be by my next post. I'll give you the link then.

Just for fun, here is a quote of some of Herzen's concluding words in Salvage:

History knocks at a thousand gates at every moment, and the gatekeeper is chance. It takes wit and courage to make our way, while our way is making us, with no consolation to count on but art and the summer lighting of personal happiness. . . Our meaning is in how we live in an imperfect world, in our time. We have no other.

For those of you who frequent Martha Plimpton's MySpace page, the last sentence is her profile quote. I had seen it before and liked it, but never realised it was from the show. What a blonde.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Reviews from village voice's Michael Feingold, NY Sun's Robert Simonson, New Yorker's John Lahr and NY Mag's Jeremy McCarter. More later, zzzz now.