Theater Reviews

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There's an undeniable sense of relief that occurs with the final moments of "Salvage," the third and final part of "The Coast of Utopia." Tom Stoppard's lengthy trilogy about Russian intellectuals and revolutionaries in the 19th century had come to feel like a massive homework assignment, and here at last is its completion.

This undoubtedly was not the feeling that the estimable playwright hoped to induce with this ambitious but ultimately frustrating work. Few dramatists are able to tackle such weighty subjects with as much intelligence and theatrical imagination, and there are times when the plays reach the thrilling heights to which they aspire. But ultimately, the trilogy lacks the epic dramatic sweep to justify its seriously bloated running time.

"Salvage," the weakest of the three plays, has a mournful, autumnal feel as it concerns the waning influence of its central character, Alexander Herzen (Brian F. O'Byrne). Concentrating on his efforts to further his revolutionary ideas via the publication of the pamphlet "The Bell," it also takes the time to depict his efforts to control his unruly children with the aid of a German governess (Jennifer Ehle) and his romantic relationship with Natasha (Martha Plimpton), the wife of his best friend, Nicholas Ogarev (Josh Hamilton).

These domestic situations, though they provide the characters with a sense of humanity, are hardly compelling and only serve to further the impression that the playwright has overstuffed the play to sustain its length. And the brief appearances by the other historical characters, from the now middle-aged anarchist Michael Bakunin (Ethan Hawke) to a philosophizing Karl Marx (Adam Dannheisser), have the obligatory feel of talking figures in a wax museum.

Even Stoppard's usually sparkling dialogue is uncharacteristically flat at times, as evidenced by a perfunctory and disappointing climactic speech delivered by O'Bryne and a closing line that is as obvious as it is portentous.

Jack O'Brien's direction is again striking and imaginative -- the repeated image of a contemplating Herzen suspended over swirling waters is an absolute stunner -- and the large ensemble, many of who are playing new roles in this installment, further demonstrate their repertory skills. But in the end, it's hard to escape the feeling that within this overly ambitious trilogy, there's one great play trying to break out.

The Coast of Utopia: Salvage
A Lincoln Center Theater presentation in association with Bob Boyett

Credits:
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Jack O'Brien
Set designers: Bob Crowley, Scott Pask
Costume designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting designer: Natasha Katz
Original music/sound designer: Mark Bennett

Cast:
Count Stanislaw Worcell: Richard Easton
Malwida von Meysenbug: Jennifer Ehle
Nicholas Ogarev: Josh Hamilton
Doctor: David Harbour
Ivan Turgenev: Jason Butler Harner
Michael Bakunin: Ethan Hawke
Alexander Herzen: Brian F. O'Byrne
Natasha Tuchkov Ogarev: Martha Plimpton
Karl Marx: Adam Dannheisser
Mary Sutherland: Kellie Overbey
Tata Herzen: Annie Purcell

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