Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Not a Love Story?

A few weeks ago, a member of the Westmoreland board had one extra ticket to Tom Stoppard's play Rock'n'Roll. He extended an invitation of all of us in the house, but because the performance fell on a night we were already planning to have a BBQ, I was the only one in the house interested in abandoning ship mid BBQ and going to the play.

Somehow, the timing of it combined with the fact that I'd been asking people to go to another Stoppard play, Arcadia, had my housemate Noah reasonably confused. A few days before I went to see it, Noah finally figured out that the play in question was indeed Rock'n'Roll and told me he'd seen it in London (the world premier run I think). So I asked if he liked it, and if he thought I'd enjoy it and he said, "I'm not sure you'll like it. Its not a love story." WHAT?!? To which I got rather riled up and informed him that I was a theatre major and do indeed have appreciation for things that are not "love stories." To Noah's credit, when given a chance to amend his rather offensive statement, this is what he said: "Rock'n'Roll is about communism and rock and roll music, neither of which you're really that interested in." Which was much more acceptable, also, true and true. I don't have any really strong opinions about rock and roll. I like it, but no strong emotions. And communism is something I'm clearly aware of but have never really studied or researched extensively.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting in the Studio Theatre on Saturday night waiting for the play to begin and reading the dramaturg's notes and found this: "Despite a plot spanning decades and political movements, Rock'n'Roll is ultimately a love story." HAH. I am not making that up. Take that, Noah!

No, but really I tell this story because I think the dramaturg is right. Rock'n'Roll is an epic story bounding back and forth between Prague and Oxford and chronologically spanning 20 years. It is epic, has tons of characters a lot of scope. But ultimately it comes down to relationships, and love. Lots of different kinds of love, love between parents and children, husbands and wives, unrequited love, love between friends. Its the relationships between the characters that keep the play from being an oral dissertation on the history of communism, and turns it into a really thoughtful exploration of how standing up for your ideals shapes the path of your life.

From a strictly production standpoint, this production was fantastic. It was done in the Studio Theatre's smallest space which was somehow converted into theatre in the round. Apparently its usually a regular theatre, but since I've never been in that space before, I'm not really sure how. The stage had tracks that accommodated some very quick set changes, as they were able to send a large dining room table in and out on the tracks, among other things. The floor itself was inset with lights to look like expansive flooring a fancy hotel or art gallery might have. But during the blackouts a dull glow from the floor guided the actors and the scene changes. And it was so subtly done that it took me most of the play to realize that was part of the reason the changes were so expeditious. There were also a bewildering number of lights hanging from an unmasked theatre ceiling. But again they were used fantastically and the light was always organic and called for.

While Arcadia and Rock'n'Roll are being produced by two separate theaters in DC, they are an excellent study in opposites. Its like Tom Stoppard sat down and said, "I'm going to write a new play, and I'm going to do everything the exact OPPOSITE of Arcadia. Brilliant." Except it is brilliant. Every character's role in Arcadia is carefully laid out, with hardly a small or insignificant role to be found, and I as I discussed, some vary major players who never appear onstage. Rock'n'Roll is the opposite. The cast is HUGE and people come on for single scenes. One actor appears (memorably) for only about 1 minute of the entire play. Others have single scenes and few lines. However, it feels organic rather than wasteful or excessive.

Alternately, both plays have a central conceit. Arcadia is focused on the interconnectedness of the past and present and mathematics, and love. Rock'n'Roll is about communism and, yes, love. And when it comes right down to it, the relationships, the way the characters affect each others lives, that's what captivates me.


The MoM said...

By the way - that only is #3 and May is almost over. Yes, I can read and I can count.
Love, MoM

grandpa jack said...

Beautiful review. You write like a professional theatre critic except you seldom use negative critiques. Which I like very much. But I do not understand your use ofd the term organic in your review. Being a vegan makes organic look like something you grow in the ground and eat.

Love story eh?