Voyage now being presented at Lincoln Center, is the first part of Tom Stoppard’s ambitious project, The Coast of Utopia that premiered four years ago in London. Coast is a trilogy of plays chronicling the life of a group of 19th century Russian intellectuals longing for the revolution, and the magnificent Lincoln Center staging directed by previous Stoppard collaborator Jack O’Brien is visually stunning. However, the play over-brimming with smart ideas and detailed characters, although stimulating, ultimately fails to move.
The trilogy follows six young idealistic noblemen, who meet as students at the University of Moscow during the repressive reign of Tsar Nichols and forge lasting friendships that will propel them though their challenging lifetime, and guide their struggles with the events that will eventually bring Russia into the modern age. Voyage, the initial installment of Stoppard’s heady concept, begins with the image of Premukhino, a country estate in 1833 Russia, where we hear the first ruminations of the coming revolution. Part two, Shipwreck, will take us to Moscow and 1848 Paris, the epicenter of change in the world.
The unfolding story of Voyage charts an approximate 10 year period at the country home of the wealthy Alexander Bakunin (Richard Easton), and we follow his son Michael (Ethan Hawke), an Artillery School cadet, through his rebellious escape from the military to a new life at Moscow university where he embraces exciting discoveries in philosophy and politics, which he brings home to share with his four sheltered sisters. The students, who influence his world, are a young philosopher Nicholas Stankevich (David Harbour) and a literary critic Vissarion Belinsky (Billy Crudup). Writers Alexander Herzen (Brian F. O’Bryne) and Ivan Turgenev (Jason Butler Harner) will make appearances as well.
The Coast of Utopia is a thrilling undertaking and Voyage under Jack O’Briein’s expert guidance is impressive. Hawke turns in an energetic adrenalin spiked performance as the arrogant Michael and Easton as his supportive father brings a nice dignity. Crudup delivers a showy, but mannered turn as the passionate Belinsky. Playing the sisters Martha Plimpton, and Jennifer Ehle are standouts.
The enormous cast of 26 making outstanding contributions to the compelling evening include Amy Irving and Josh Hamilton.
Part I is more than a bit confusing as the story jumps about somewhat in time and consists of 23 scenes. The three parts are intended to stand alone, but the urge to witness all is obviously enticing.
Stoppard’s plays are always characterized by philosophically intriguing smart storylines, and The Cost of Utopia – The Voyage: Part I does not disappoint. This is surely thought provoking theatre, performed by a talented cast, but the staging is more remarkably stirring than the play itself.
The lighting by Brian MacDevitt is dazzling and the sets by Bob Crowley and Scott Pask are dramatically evocative creating a hypnotic spell with lush transitions.
There will be more to come making it quite interesting to see just how the story and the performances will accumulate. The production here that has been cut back considerably from the London mounting has a mesmerizing effect, but unfortunately is not emotionally involving, leaving one not completely fulfilled.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
The Coast of Utopia – Part I: The Voyage is now playing at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 150 West 65th Street at Broadway. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200 or at the box office.