Coasting to the Finish

Stoppard's Utopia trilogy is complete. But is there one evening of drama in it?

Salvaging the wreckage: Josh Hamilton and Martha Plimpton
Paul Kolnik
Salvaging the wreckage: Josh Hamilton and Martha Plimpton


The Coast of Utopia: Part 3: Salvage
by Tom Stoppard
Vivian Beaumont Theater
Lincoln Center

The sense of human struggle and suffering seems almost wholly absent. When Michael Bakunin reappears late in Part 3, he has been imprisoned for years in the Peter and Paul Fortress, been exiled to Siberia, and has struggled his way as a fugitive to Japan, across America, and finally to England. He has suffered, a program insert tells us, "unimaginable hardship." But the Bakunin who arrives at Herzen's London home in Stoppard's script, conveyed accurately in Ethan Hawke's chipper performance, is the same raspy, cheerfully pugnacious, money-cadging smart aleck we last saw in Part 2, in chains, joshing his way into a Czarist dungeon. That Bakunin's hardships have told on him physically, or even hardened his line politically, doesn't seem to be the point. Ultimately, Stoppard seems to regard human beings as a species of Teflon in which ideas are cooked, and the passion that Jack O'Brien's actors pour so fervently into his text starts to look like a rebuke to his reliance on this unmarrable substance. The final oddity of Utopia is that, despite its dramatic form, it has the overall feeling of a highly articulate analytic essay—the final irony being that actual essays on the subject tend to offer more dramatic excitement than Stoppard's play. To those which the quest for background reading has already made bestsellers, I would add Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station and A Window on Russia. Wilson's own plays aren't very good, but his essays reverberate with a deeper drama than any Utopia supplies.

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