Saturday, January 05, 2008

ROCK 'N' ROLL REVISITED. I saw Tom Stoppard's new play in London last year (review here) and saw it on Broadway last night. The production, which keeps the principals from the Duke of York's run and has mostly excellent replacements for the other roles, held my attention throughout; it's really good enough to see more than once.

There have been some changes. I was puzzled when Michael Feingold wrote that the show, "as far as I can tell, is mainly a tribute to the ancient Czech folk custom of yelling," and concerned when I heard that Rufus Sewell was having vocal problems (at least one correspondent noticed this in London too, though I didn't). The Broadway version does indeed have more shouting and broader playing of the big confrontations, and Sewell was evincing more phlegm than before.

Part of this may be due to the inferior acoustics at the Jacobs, and the noble decision to use little or no electronic amplification for the voices. I think Trevor Nunn may have also encouraged the actors to hit the key points harder for us dumb Yanks. This hurts the performances at times, as in the scene in which Max tells the cancer-ravaged Eleanor that he loves her with his mind; it was almost grotesquely jacked-up and Brian Cox and Sinead Cusack didn't seem entirely comfortable with it.

But, maybe because I'm a dumb Yank myself, I didn't mind it for the most part. And some performances I liked better this time. Cusack's Eleanor was all right, but when she became the grown-up Esme in the second act, I saw her sadness and rootlessness more clearly, which made her decision [spoiler!] to go off with Jan both more understandable and funnier. And Sewell, phlegm and all, has done great things with Jan. He was very fine in London, but now I perceive more of a Chaplinesque quality -- an innocence (though not untainted) trying to work its way out of giant conundrums that other people don't see. And as the elder Jan he carries both the weight of years of repression (which has only been partly lifted by his social liberation) and his old sweetness and yearning. When people are chattering around or at him, you watch him to see what he thinks. The play's pretty good, but no play is so good that it can't be elevated by a great performance.

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