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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE COAST OF UTOPIA - PART THREE: SALVAGE
at the Vivian Beaumont, New York

RUSSIAN THINKERS
By Marilyn Stasio

  Brian F. O'Byrne (seated) and

Tom Stoppard's exhilarating trilogy about a group of Russian intellectuals who are swept up in the tumultuous political revolutions that transformed Europe during the mid-19th century comes to its end with Salvage. The play's last line -"There's going to be a storm"- resonates with a mournful echo, recalling the cataclysmic events of the two previous plays and foreshadowing global conflicts in a world yet to come.

The political upheavals it seems, are not yet done and never will be, so long as men fight blindly for their visions of an unattainable Utopia. "To go on, and to know there is no landfall on the paradisal shore, and still to go on"-that says Alexander Herzen, the towering figure at the center of this epic drama, is all that mankind can hope to achieve. "Our meaning is in how we live in an imperfect world in our time."

Although it introduces several fresh faces drawn from a circle of Polish emigres in London and addresses new political issues raised by hot-headed Russians of the next generation of revolutionaries, Salvage satisfies mainly by bringing to a close the personal dramas of characters met first in Voyage as young firebrands in their native Russia and then observed in Shipwreck agitating for political change as exiles in Paris. As befits the final chapter of their collective drama, the piece is wintery in aspect and elegiac in tone, its song drawn from the throat of a cello.

Director Jack O' Brien presents a melancholy scene of this farewell to the dreams of youth, with Natasha Katz's somber lighting and costumer Catherine Zuber's subdued color palette mirroring the reflective mood of characters who have watched their shining ideals for the end of of the tyrannical rule of monarchies and the liberation of enslaved masses sputter out in the chaotic aftermath of Europe's imperfect insurrections.

To be sure, some of the players in this pageant of great minds and noble hearts resurface with renewed vigor. Michael Bakunin, the fire-breathing anarchist played with boisterous exuberance by Ethan Hawke, emerges from his long imprisonment in Siberia with his revolutionary zeal intact. And where will he go, now that Russia's serfs have settled down? "Where's the next revolution?" he shouts out. What about the Slavs?" And Ivan Turgenev, whose monumental presence is scaled to all-too human dimension in Jason Butler Harner's sweetly wry performance, returns fresh from having written his masterpiece, Fathers and Sons.

But the figure who stands out in this darkening landscape is the humanitarian philosopher Alexander Herzen, as played by Brian F. O'Brien a disillusioned man with acute understanding of human behavior but little insight into his own foolishness. Stoppard allows Herzen his moment of glory, reuniting him with his friend Nicholas Ogarov ( the sympathetic Josh Hamilton) so they can found the Free Russian Press in exile, and giving him a clever mistress (Martha Plimpton , wearing her intelligence like a tiara) to comfort him after the death of his beloved wife and child. But Herzen lives to see his most penetrating ideas dismissed by a new crop of young anarchists, and at the end of his days is left alone and alienated from his own era, burdened with the knowledge of what he has lost and what he can never hope to achieve in his lifetime.

The bell that tolls at the end of the trilogy tolls for him.

 


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