Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Tom Stoppard’s Voyage was a very heavy play: as the first part of an epic trilogy about Russian intellectuals and their revolutions (The Coast of Utopia), it bore the responsibility for establishing characters like the exuberantly radical Michael Bakunin (Ethan Hawke), the passionate literary critic Vissarion Belinksy (Billy Crudup), and the formidable thinker Alexander Herzen (Brían F. O’Byrne). By contrast, Shipwreck, the second part of the trilogy, is light and often comically witty—it sails on the good humor and fortune amassed by the initial installment and suffers little tragedy (or emotion) until deep in the second act. That’s a little ironic, considering that the first act comprises the French revolution, but the big events always seem to happen from afar (in fact, they’re often staged far in the hollow recesses of the gigantic Vivian Beaumont theater). Stoppard is more interested with the reactions of individual cogs than with the entire mechanism, which explains why the second act of Shipwreck focuses on the fomenting of Herzen’s philosophies on life after the tragic (and offstage) death of his deaf son.
Though Stoppard is technically correct when he claims that each part of The Coast of Utopia stands alone, Shipwreck doesn’t do much by itself: it starts off as a dry exchange of idealisms in
However, within the context of the entire cycle, Shipwreck is a far more enjoyable evening. It’s not often that we get to see characters grow over several decades or to see talented actors like Richard Easton and Martha Plimpton making the most of small roles. The extra layers from play to play add dimensions to otherwise static scenes, and even at its most boring, director Jack O’Brien has made The Coast of Utopia beautiful to look at. Shipwreck winds up, fittingly, like Herzen: focused more on the technical marvels of O’Brien and company than the emotional range of O’Byrne and company. (Not to diminish the cast in whole: Bianca Amato and Amy Irving, among others, are stunning.)
Because there is less meat to Shipwreck, O’Brien has flavored his theatrical stew with vibrant staging and a transformative set. The deep recesses of the Vivian Beaumont Theater are used in full to play with perspective to show us the Place de la Concorde in
There are, however, high hopes for Salvage. Voyage set up believable characters and breathed the great revolutionary ideas into them. Shipwreck spends its two-and-a-half hours draining these characters of their hot air. Revolution is in the air, and even if it doesn’t reach us in Salvage, we’ll at least have one final opportunity to enjoy O’Brien’s marvelous direction.
Vivian Beaumont Theater (150 West 65th Street)
Tickets (212-239-6200): $65.00-100.00