Stoppard's Voyage at Shotgun Players

THE COAST OF UTOPIA: VOYAGE: written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Patrick Dooley. Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA, 94703. 510-841-6500 or March 23 – April 15, 2012

THE COAST OF UTOPIA: Voyage an ambitious journey at Shotgun Players

The wife of a reviewer (who will remain unnamed) seen the previous evening at the opening of the dynamic two-hander Red at Berkeley Rep made a very cogent comment regarding the author of The Coast of Utopia. “He is so non-Stop[pable] with his incessant dialog.” She was so right but Shotgun Players under the direction of the always inventive physical direction of Artistic Director Patrick Dooley have mounted a show that many times is fascinating and at other times confusing with 21 cast members playing 28 roles.

The Coast of Utopia trilogy has been produced only once in the United States, at New York City's Lincoln Center occupying three nights and 9 hours of time. It garnered 10 Tony nominations winning seven. The reviewer for the London Guardian called London production, directed by Trevor Nunn, “heroically ambitious and wildly uneven” and “wouldn't have missed it for worlds.” In the NY Times, Ben Bradley “wouldn't call it [the play] a major work of art” but did refer to it as "brave and gorgeous" and is "the season's ultimate snob ticket."

Voyage is the first part of that trilogy, and Shotgun’s production does fit some of the descriptive terms mentioned above. It is a brave undertaking and is visually stunning and cleverly staged on Nina Ball’s inventive set that allows the multiple changes of set locations within the play to flow under Dooley’s active direction. This is greatly enhanced by the plethora of colorful costumes selected by designer Alexae Visel adding verisimilitude to 1830-40s time frame of the action.

Trying to bring intelligible description to the story line is near impossible unless one to write a treatise on the subject matter. For this production those involved with the dramaturgy have produced about 3500 printed words that are included with the program. The also offer “The Voyage Travel Guide”- - - ‘a 30 minute pre-show talk introducing the play's landscape and the young lovers and revolutionaries we'll meet in Voyage.’

Stoppard has elected to bring pre-revolutionary Russia to life starting his story on a family estate of the Bakunin family in the reign of despot Czar Nicholas I. His catalyst for much of the conflicts appears to be the wayward son Michael who has rebelled from army life to embrace philosophy and politics gleaned from his associations at University and the writings of foreign authors. There are three marriageable daughters at home thus allowing Stoppard to philosophize on the role of women during that era and create dramatic conflict to pique our interest. At the time of the play serfs were no more than slaves completely controlled by the land owners. There is a stinging comment early in the play, “We Russians are way ahead on the issue of slavery than are the Americans” suggesting revolution in Russia was a fait accompli.

Whereas the first act takes place in the countryside, Stoppard, in one of his signature devices, moves back in time to Moscow and St. Petersburg for act two to fill in the activity that created the milieu of act one. There are dissertations that include mention of George Sand, Pushkin, Hegel and others. One cannot but conclude that Stoppard is asking, nay telling us, to admire his brilliance in this play described as an “epic journey through Russian aristocracy and intellectualism.”

The overall production values of the Shotgun Players are admirable and theactors perform their roles with enthusiasm. This reviewer recommends a visit because you may not have the chance to see it performed anywhere again. I also would advise attending the 30 minute pre-show “Voyage Travel Guide” to make your evening more fulfilling.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of