Thursday, November 08, 2007
"Rock 'n' Roll" at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, November 7, 2007
The very prolific Tom Stoppard is back on Broadway with another transfer from London's West End of Rock 'n' Roll. In it, he tracks the downward spiral of the Soviet empire beginning with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 until the fall of the Iron Curtain, tying it together with the growth of rock music. This staging by Trevor Nunn, however, feels more like a screenplay than a live stage event. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours, the more-than-just-very-long first act spends much of the time on exposition. Once things start happening in Act II, it's a bit more compelling, but still a bit heady. In his last Broadway outing, last season's Coast of Utopia trilogy, each show had a page of program notes to accompany the performance.
Rock 'n' Roll has an 8-page insert, and still spends the first hour setting up the show.
Brian Cox as Max Morrow, the die-hard communist Cambridge professor, flails and blusters over the inability of the masses to rise above capitalism. Mr. Cox wears Max's convictions as an ever-increasing weight, which ends up leaving him metaphorically and literally lame after a broken leg late in life.
Sinead Cusack takes on the roles of Max's wife Eleanor, dying of breast cancer, then later as their grown daughter Esme. Her Eleanor, a professor of classics with a penchant for Sapphic poetry, rages against her own dying, betrayed by her own body while her mind can't comprehend how this has happened to her. Her Esme, an aging flower child, never feels that she compared to her mother's accomplishments in life and work.
Rufus Sewell, as Jan, the Czech grad student who returns to his country following the invasion suffers under the weight of the new regime. Sent primarily to spy on Professor Morrow, his interest was more in how to use the Communists for his own ends - education, culture, travel.
Robert Jones' revolving set serves the proceedings very nicely, effectively lit by Howard Harrison. Emma Ryott's costumes are benignly appropriate, matching the periods from the 60s to the 90s.
Mr. Nunn's staging separated scenes with rather lengthy musical interludes, projecting song/album titles, artist/performer and studio information with a focus on music by Pink Floyd and the Plastic People of the Universe. Tightening up these transitions could cut a bit of the length of the play.