November 5, 2007

Stoppard

Tom Stoppard's latest play Rock 'n' Roll about a Pink Floyd-loving Czech in 1968 has opened in New York. (Here's the NYT review.)

Stoppard, as I've mentioned before, is the only major Western European or North American fiction author to devote a substantial portion of his career to criticizing Communism. In the arts, what happened to Eastern Europe between 1917-1991 has otherwise pretty much disappeared down the old memory hole.

It's always a good idea to read a Stoppard play before seeing it. Stoppard works hard to make his plays as entertaining and stageworthy as possible, but he'll sacrifice initial intelligibility to make them deeper and richer. (Here's the script of Rock 'n' Roll.)

On the other hand, he keeps rewriting plays until he gets them right, so the book version you can buy sometimes isn't what you'll see. This was most notoriously true with his nine hour trilogy about the intellectual roots of the Russian Revolution, The Coast of Utopia. I found the book version of the London staging to be rather dull. But, by all accounts, the recent New York City re-staging was a triumph. So, I'm glad to see that the NYC version of the trilogy has just been published.

A reader comments:

Woah woah WOAH.

First of all, your judgment of the original as dull calls your taste into serious question. As a devoted acolyte of yours, I don't say that lightly.

Second of all, the main differences I noticed from reading the original several times and seeing each play twice in New York were these:

1) dumbed down--
not necessarily a terrible thing but occasionally annoying, and at times pointless or counterproductive.

For example, when Turgenev meets the nihilist on the Isle of Wight or wherever all the expats are for their holiday, the original has the nihilist give his big spiel and then the scene ends with the stark line of T's: "I don’t know what to call you." The staging ludicrously has a loud sound effect grow over the nihilist's speech, as if they didn’t have the courage of the writing's conviction, and then in response to "I don’t know what to call you" the nihilist shouts, unintentionally comically, "CALL ME BAZAROV!" Later, we have the name Bazarov explicitly cited as T's nihilist antihero. So anyone in the Broadway audience too stupid to appreciate the Isle of Wight scene will understand, under the weight of sledgehammer, that the guy T met was the inspiration for his book.

2) sold out to the libs--
Drastic rewrite of the ending to reassure the liberal Broadway audience that conservatism is bad and, notwithstanding the previous nine hours, progressivism is good. Herzen gives a clunky, glaringly out of place speech in the last few seconds explaining that the proto-Bolsheviks we met towards the end are in fact "disappointed conservatives." The actor, O'Byrne, rushed thru the lines that attempt to explain this absurdity, a crappy delivery but the wisest thing to do with such garbage material.

The beautiful lines about history having no culmination and knocking on endless doors in the mist were cut: “But history has no culmination! There is always as much in front as behind. There is no libretto. History knocks at a thousand gates at every moment, and the gatekeeper is chance. We shout into the mist for this one or that one to be opened for us, but through every gate there are a thousand more. " All that, gone. Wouldn’t want to offend the audience’s religion.

The line near the end picking up on the Ginger Cat idea--"What kind of beast is it, this Ginger Cat with its insatiable appetite for human sacrifice? This Moloch who promises that everything will be beautiful after we’re dead?"--is cut, making the appearance of the Ginger Cat in the first play utterly pointless.

Herzen's final anguished lines. "I imagine myself the future custodian of a broken statue, a blank wall, a desecrated grave, telling everyone who passes by, ‘Yes—yes, all this was destroyed by the revolution," are switched to "I imagine THEM [the nihilists] the future custodianS..." thus robbing the line of any dramatic development, any personal recognition, and of course putting all responsibility on the "disappointed conservatives" and none on our heroic liberals.

A total disaster. The first time I saw it I told myself I was misremembering the real script. So I brought it the second time and confirmed it.

THERE ARE NO HEROES.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

12 comments:

Alex said...

Woah woah WOAH.

First of all, your judgment of the original as dull calls your taste into serious question. As a devoted acolyte of yours, I don't say that lightly.

Second of all, the main differences I noticed from reading the original several times and seeing each play twice in New York were these:

1) dumbed down--
not necessarily a terrible thing but occasionally annoying, and at times pointless or counterproductive.

For example, when Turgenev meets the nihilist on the Isle of Wight or wherever all the expats are for their holiday, the original has the nihilist give his big spiel and then the scene ends with the stark line of T's: "I don’t know what to call you." The staging ludicrously has a loud sound effect grow over the nihilist's speech, as if they didn’t have the courage of the writing's conviction, and then in response to "I don’t know what to call you" the nihilist shouts, unintentionally comically, "CALL ME BAZAROV!" Later, we have the name Bazarov explicitly cited as T's nihilist antihero. So anyone in the Broadway audience too stupid to appreciate the Isle of Wight scene will understand, under the weight of sledgehammer, that the guy T met was the inspiration for his book.

2) sold out to the libs--
Drastic rewrite of the ending to reassure the liberal Broadway audience that conservatism is bad and, notwithstanding the previous nine hours, progressivism is good. Herzen gives a clunky, glaringly out of place speech in the last few seconds explaining that the proto-Bolsheviks we met towards the end are in fact "disappointed conservatives." The actor, O'Byrne, rushed thru the lines that attempt to explain this absurdity, a crappy delivery but the wisest thing to do with such garbage material.

The beautiful lines about history having no culmination and knocking on endless doors in the mist were cut: “But history has no culmination! There is always as much in front as behind. There is no libretto. History knocks at a thousand gates at every moment, and the gatekeeper is chance. We shout into the mist for this one or that one to be opened for us, but through every gate there are a thousand more. " All that, gone. Wouldn’t want to offend the audience’s religion.

The line near the end picking up on the Ginger Cat idea--"What kind of beast is it, this Ginger Cat with its insatiable appetite for human sacrifice? This Moloch who promises that everything will be beautiful after we’re dead?"--is cut, making the appearance of the Ginger Cat in the first play utterly pointless.

Herzen's final anguished lines. "I imagine myself the future custodian of a broken statue, a blank wall, a desecrated grave, telling everyone who passes by, ‘Yes—yes, all this was destroyed by the revolution," are switched to "I imagine THEM [the nihilists] the future custodianS..." thus robbing the line of any dramatic development, any personal recognition, and of course putting all responsibility on the "disappointed conservatives" and none on our heroic liberals.

A total disaster. The first time I saw it I told myself I was misremembering the real script. So I brought it the second time and confirmed it.

THERE ARE NO HEROES.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks.

mandysarrow said...

In the arts, what happened to Eastern Europe between 1917-1991 has otherwise pretty much disappeared down the old memory hole.

That's partly because communism is very boring compared to the glamour and glitter of Nazism, but you've also got to remember that mass murder and oppression are only wrong if committed with a hateful heart for impure reasons. Just ask one of the ex-communists currently in power in the UK.

dale_nelson said...

Alex, are you saying that there is a published version available that you do think is excellent and satisfying? If so, could you mention the publisher? Maybe even the ISBN?

Anonymous said...

"Stoppard, as I've mentioned before, is the only major Western European or North American fiction author to devote a substantial portion of his career to criticizing Communism"

He may be a Western European by citizenship, but according to wikipedia, he was born in Czechoslovakia and changed his name. That could explain his interest in the subject.

Ravenous fat people stalk me said...

I can't believe you dug up Mr. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead from my senior year. You've somewhat redeemed yourself for inadvertently providing this link between the past and the present. Maybe I'll spend the next year roaming around the US in my minivan taking frequent breaks to read Stoppard and Kundera.

Alex said...

dale-nelson:

Dont have the copies I read on hand, but they'd have been the July 2003 paperbacks listed here, published by Grove:

http://www.amazon.com/Coast-Utopia-Voyage-Shipwreck-Salvage/dp/0802143407/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/105-1364548-8821256?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1194415416&sr=8-1

The Aug 2002 volumes from Faber and Faber should be the same. I expect any copy that has been available to date is the same, so if you've already read it, that's probably it.

The October 2007 paperback descriptions says it is the "definitive text used during" the NY run, but there were actually some differences between the February show I saw and the April show. So I'm curious what the "definitive" version ends up being.

Alex said...

The link in my last comment is wrong; it's to the 10/07 edition. Here's the page I meant:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b/104-5143169-0094301?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=coast+of+utopia&x=0&y=0

But anyway, you get the idea.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dale_nelson said...

So this earlier version is the one to get?

My little reading group is doing Turgenev's Fathers and Sons in a few weeks, and I think one of our attendees may have seen one of these plays. I'm interested.

Alex said...

Well, but maybe the "definitive" version is the one to get, ie the most recent! I don't know, the earlier one is the one I've known for several years. The differences are only a few lines in a sprawling whole but I really think they make a big difference. I am going to get the new one to see how it ended up, but it seems to me the earlier one is better, even putting aside the politics.

dale_nelson said...

Thanks, Alex. For now, I'm going with interlibrary loan copies of the earlier editions.