Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Know, It's Only Rock & Roll

We saw Tom Stoppard's Rock & Roll last night. I've been a fan of Stoppard since I first read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern... in high school and have liked pretty much every play of his that I've ever seen.  We even saw last year's marathon The Coast of Utopia (9 hours of theatre all in a single day—glad I did it, won't be doing that again any time soon!); it didn't change my life, but I thought it was very well done and I was engaged throughout the entire day.

I tend not to read reviews of plays before I see them (unless I don't know I'm going to see them when I read the review), so I didn't really have many expectations. I knew that it had been a critical success in London and I'd heard that the NYC critics weren't as enthusiastic, but that was all I knew. I thought the performances were all great—especially Sinead Cusack—the music choices are fantastic, the direction is strong. I just wish I'd liked the play better. There are some really exceptional moments—a particularly heart-breaking moment between Cusack and Brian Cox in Act I was one of the most powerful I've seen in a very long time—but, overall, it just didn't keep me engaged for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

To be fair, there were a few times it was hard for me to hear, which is not the best way to experience a play in which the characters are constantly engaging in philosophical discussions and intellectual arguments. But I think that's a big part of the problem: everyone is talking about things more than they're doing things. When the play really caught fire was when someone did something or responded to someone else's actions. Catherine wondered if perhaps Stoppard needs a firmer hand from an editor/dramaturg, and I think that's probably so. There's a lot of character information (and almost as much historical information) in the speeches/arguments/discussions, but much more than we need for the play to be effective. It's not all talk—it just more talk than it needs to be.

Regardless, it's a remarkable production of a good play. Flaws notwithstanding, I'm glad I saw it

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the blog, Barry!

For what it's worth, I was really turned off by Rock 'n Roll. Rufus Sewell is, how do you say, mad dreamy and I was very thrilled to see both him and Sinead Cusack. And they were lovely.

But . . . I thought the production got in the way of the play. The whole time I felt as though I could feel the faint heartbeat of the play underneath all the flushing toilets and church spires. I left feeling pretty certain that if we were in a studio space and things were messier it would have been a whole different ball of yarn.

As it is, I'm two months out from having seen it and only the final moment is still impressed on me. Or perhaps, more succinctly, the final moment is the only thing that still impresses me.