Jesse Jarnow

the coast of utopia (in the end)

Several more thoughts about Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia, which I finished seeing last week, and finished reading yesterday…

o I could really go for another three parts. With the recent appetite for serial entertainment like Lost and Harry Potter, it’d be wonderful for a writer of Stoppard’s caliber to tackle a project as epic. Perhaps that’s exactly what Coast of Utopia already is.

o Three women next to us left after act I of part III. What the fuck? Did they make it all the way and give up? Were they tourists who just wanted to see a show at Lincoln Center?

o For numerous reasons — rhythm, dialogue, conceits — it could never translate to film. Does the fact that it can’t be mass entertainment make it pretentious? (It is, of course, but for other reasons, often indistinguishable from why it’s so grand.)

o Perhaps the most beautiful set in the whole show: perfectly vertical Christmas lights lowered from the rafters, creating the illusion (especially in the balcony) of being suspended in the midst of a hyperreal starry night.

o Throughout, Stoppard juggles characters, plotlines, philosophical arguments, and — in part III, Salvage — it was amazing to watch him bring them all to conclusions. In doing so, Stoppard sometimes stepped out of his usual voice. On paper, while supremely eloquent, some of the Big Speeches lack Stoppard’s usual multi-layered verve. But, on stage, calling on the audience’s collective experience with the characters, they were among the most dramatic parts of the trilogy. Alexander Herzen, reflecting:

I sat in this char the first morning I woke up in this house. I’d just arrived in England, and for the first time… for the first time since Natalie died… no, from before that, that I don’t know since when… but for the first time in a long time, there was silence. I didn’t have to talk or think or move, nothing was expected of me, I knew nobody and nobody knew where I was, everything was behind me, all the moving from lace to place, the quarrels and celebrations, the desperate concerns of health and happiness, love, death, printer’s errors, picnics ruined by rain, the endless tumult of ordinary life… and I just sat quiet and alone all that day, looking at the tops of the trees on Primrose Hill through the mist.

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