Part dva of Tom Stoppard's Russian trilogy tonight at LCT. And I actually got to see the playwright himself in the lobby at intermission, along with Daniel Okrent, former public editor of the NYT (I'm pretty sure it was him). I was almost late as the friendly bartender at Bello Giardino topped up my glass of Chianti, and I had to rush over to make the curtain. On top of being slightly buzzed for the opening scenes, I was squished by my two neighbor theatergoers, who'd taken it upon themselves to totally hog the armrests before I arrived. Thus I didn't get off to a good start, and probably can't give a good accounting of the show. Jennifer Ehle and Brian F. O'Byrne as Natalie and Alexander Herzen are the stars of this installment, and they each manage to shed the problems I saw in the first one, turning in good performances that carry the show along. No one quite stands out quite like Billy Crudup did playing Belinsky in the first part, although Ehle does show her chops (and other things*) playing Natalie. For whatever reason, I didn't feel as connected to the characters this time, and more of the philosophy babble passed me by without sticking -- it stuck a little more in the second act, I admit. There's a line that Belinksy utters twice in the show (the scene's repeated in part) that goes something like, "I've had enough of utopias." I'm sad to admit that at that moment I was feeling similarly. But it wasn't all so tiring. The sets are used to even greater effect in this part, and the stage is opened up more to evoke the different settings across Europe. The serf statues that stood sentry in the back of the first part of the trilogy are gone for most of Shipwreck, but they are constantly mentioned as being one of the chief sources of Russia's backwardness. (Of course, slavery was still legal in the U.S. at this time as well.) The play highlights Herzen as a philosopher in exile who can do the most good when he is away from his homeland like an early Joyce or Hemingway.
*There's a creative scene in the play that recreates Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, reminding me of the tableau vivant scene featuring Lily Barth in The House of Mirth.