Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck

Shipwreck, the second installment of Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy, is not as much fun as its predecessor, Voyage, but it is certainly a better made play. Focusing mostly on the life of Alexander Herzen (Brian F. O'Byrne), it chronicles the writing of The Communist Manifesto (Marx is a character), the French Revolution, and the lives of the Russian intelligensia in European exile. O'Byrne is slowly growing into the role of Herzen; he's not quite there yet, but he's certainly not unwatchable, as others have said. As usual, the brilliant Jennifer Ehle shines as his wife, Natalie; she gives a beautifully natural and heartbreaking performance. Watch out for her at Tony time.

Also wonderful is Josh Hamilton as Nicholas Ogarev, the celebrated Russian poet and Herzen's best friend. Hamilton, who was only in one scene of Voyage, proves once again that he is one of the finest stage actors working today. I cannot wait for Salvage, where I hear that Ogarev is the central character.

Ethan Hawke's Bakunin and Billy Crudup's Belinsky both reappear here, and they are still lively and interesting characters. Both of these great actors are, in my opinion, giving the performances of their careers. Amy Irving also does terrific work (and looks twenty years younger) as Ogarev's estranged wife, Maria. After watching two-thirds of this trilogy, I'm wondering if there is anything Stoppard can't do. Please, someone, bring Rock 'N' Roll to these shores at once!

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