Michael Riedel relates a very funny, apparently well-sourced, account of Tom Stoppard confronting the disgruntled patrons walking out on Coast of Utopia, Part 1, at intermission.
Indeed, I know many respectable theatre folk who would agree that the play is somewhat inert. But I say in this case, the joke is on those who shell out $100 a ticket just because the New York Times told them it is simply the must-see event of the season. Perhaps, because of Stoppard's name, they expect hours of delightful Anglophilia. Instead they get Slavic seminars.
Stoppard, who ducks out of Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater for a smoke after the first act, keeps an informal tally of the people leaving his play. Lately, he's started asking them why.
The dialogue goes something like this:
Stoppard: "Excuse me. Why are you leaving this play?"
Lincoln Center Theater subscriber (age, about 97): "Who are you?"
Stoppard: "I'm the playwright."
Subscriber (fidgeting with infrared hearing device): "We can't tell you!"
Stoppard: "Please. I really want to know. Are you leaving because it's boring?"
Subscriber (crinkling a cough-drop wrapper): "Well, yes."
Stoppard: "Why is it boring?"
Subscriber: "Too much philosophy!"
I suppose the Times tried to preempt such disappointment by properly preparing its readers with this lavish spread on the front of their Weekend section Friday. (Not to be confused with this in the magazine section today. How many more ways can NYT come up with to market this play?) Hey, I'm all for context and dramaturgy, and William Grimes gives a nice little primer on the 19th century Russian intelligentsia. But while I assume there's some tongue-in-cheek to the "homework" tone of it all ("That should do it. You are now ready to see the plays," concludes Grimes) and to the list of "Required Pretheater Reading"...what conclusions does one draw from this? To take the article at its word, for instance, if one were to actually purchase all the books on said "required" list (in the specified editions at their listed prices) it would set you back a total, I calculate, of $337.70. Add that, of course, to the $300 it already costs for one ticket to see all three plays.
In short, despite my enthusiasm for the play and its heady subject matter, I find myself recoiling at the presentation of theatre here as a leisure pursuit of the leisure class. When you factor in the clear pricing strategy by Lincoln Center Theatre (which I already inveighed against here), the demographic for this show has been clearly agreed upon by LCT and NYT. The rest of us can either save up the money or watch from the sidelines.