David Fox: If ever there was a idiot’s errand, it’s reviewing Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt. Take into account the subject material alone: a historical past of Jewish Vienna at varied factors between 1899 and 1955. (1938—and really particularly, Kristallnacht—is central, in case you had any doubt about how grimly necessary this story is.) If that’s not sufficient, the now 85-year-old Stoppard has instructed that Leopoldstadt is prone to be his valedictory work. See what I imply in regards to the double-bind we poor critics are positioned in? So, it’s a aid to say that Stoppard’s potential to seamlessly orchestrate massive narratives stays a marvel. A number of generations of characters—embodied by a solid of 26 actors—come and go right here with dazzling authorial virtuosity. Director Patrick Marber and the design staff have framed it with the jaw-dropping fantastic thing about an exhibit at Neue Galerie.
Cameron Kelsall: The manufacturing, now enjoying on Broadway after success within the West Finish, is a technical triumph, with particular kudos to scenic designer Richard Hudson. I discovered the best way that he traced the escalating precarity of the central household’s state of affairs—from the opulence of Christmas 1899 to the approaching terror of Kristallnacht—via the gradual discount of bodily grandeur in the identical house as affecting as something in Stoppard’s textual content. However the playwright and director additionally deserve reward for crafting an engrossing and, sure, often shifting exploration of citizenship and id all through historical past. However usually, I discovered the piece as an entire exceedingly hole.
DF: Much less fortunately, nonetheless very a lot in proof is one other Stoppard signature. It’s what I’ve come to think about as his Efficiency of Erudition, a layering of historic and cultural free affiliation that’s transparently meant to dazzle us with the author’s mind and wit (and by affiliation, audiences can congratulate themselves on “getting it”). Early on in Leopoldstadt, Schnitzler, Klimt, and Freud are named checked, with Plato and Aristotle thrown in for good measure. Of Mahler, that is mentioned within the first 5 minutes:
ERNST: Mahler is taking the Philharmonic to the Paris Exposition. He’s taking his Second Symphony to harass the French.
Personally, I’m not amused. Mahler’s Second Symphony is to not be dismissed in an ethereal couplet. I’ve discovered Stoppard’s smug gamesmanship tiresome in a number of performs. Right here, given the subject material, it’s additionally in very poor style.
CK: For many of the play’s first three acts—though offered with out intermission, it follows an archaic five-act construction—the actual risk on the coronary heart of Leopoldstadt exists within the shadow of the writer’s witty banter. (Because the motion takes place in Vienna within the early twentieth century, and most characters are Jewish, I belief I don’t have to elucidate the place issues are heading.) It feels extraordinarily low-cost to run via a guidelines of cultural touchpoints and boldface names solely to distract from the approaching gut-punch of Anschluss and Holocaust. Particularly when the central themes that the play considers—the worth of assimilation and the lack of a communal id—are extraordinarily worthwhile. But in his makes an attempt to be intelligent, and to overstuff his textual content with a dictionary’s price of marginalia, Stoppard by no means lingers on a personality or storyline lengthy sufficient to develop it into one thing price caring about.
DF: Worthy topics certainly, as you say—but in addition hardly unfamiliar. We’ve seen them in theater, movie, portray, and so forth. That doesn’t imply Stoppard shouldn’t take them on, nevertheless it’s not completely clear to me what his central focus is right here. The bigger historic story of the Holocaust and its destruction of a tradition is shifting right here, in fact—it might hardly not be—however I believe it’s not the play’s power. There are too many characters, most of whom register as archetypes reasonably than people. The particular particulars of what occurs to them additionally really feel archetypal. For me, it’s the difficulty of assimilation the place Leopoldstadt probably focuses on an space that also feels under-explored. But it surely appears to come back and go inside the play—a through-line the writer solely intermittently follows.
CK: Agreed—as a result of the story Stoppard actually needs to inform is his personal. For the uninitiated: he was born within the former Czechoslovakia to secular Jewish mother and father, who left the nation amid the German invasion and ended up in Nice Britain. Stoppard has mentioned in interviews that he didn’t absolutely comprehend his Jewish heritage till he was in his fifties, and that he largely rejected his previous because of his thorough Anglicization as a youth. Coincidentally, there’s a character who seems within the final act of Leopoldstadt—Leonard Chamberlain, born Leopold Rosenbaum—whose backstory carefully mimics that of the writer. However even then, Stoppard doesn’t completely discover the sophisticated feelings of shedding a homeland, a faith, or a household. The denouement rapidly spirals right into a touch upon the better historic second reasonably than the person expertise.
DF: I don’t disagree, however actually, I don’t have an issue that this in the end turns into a Holocaust play—I believe it’s virtually inevitable, given the topic. What bothers me extra is that via the character of Leonard/Leo, Stoppard locations himself on the heart of the narrative. Leonard’s journey of self-discovery is definitely an admission of guilt, however to me, the sincerity is undercut by my sinking sense that ultimately, it’s all about him. You understand, it happens to me that to this point, we’ve centered on Leopoldstadt in a really meta method, with out actually saying a lot in regards to the manufacturing. (Kind of an “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” drawback.) Perhaps we must always say one thing extra in regards to the present as a present (if that doesn’t sound too crude, given the subject.)
CK: I can say that I used to be not often bored, though that’s due (no less than partly) to needing to take care of fixed engagement in order to not lose the thread of the plot. But even simply two days after seeing the efficiency, there are only a few performances or moments between folks that stay contemporary in my thoughts. David Krumholtz is sympathetic within the central position of Hermann Merz, a Catholic convert who learns too late that his cash and connections received’t defend him from anti-Semitism, and Brandon Uranowitz brings a wiry vitality to Nathan, one of many few characters who survives the Holocaust. But what I principally keep in mind are the stage footage—beautiful, positive, however in the end empty.
DF: Pictorial for positive, however as you say—these footage overwhelm a way of people. I agree that Krumholtz and Uranowitz are the standouts—in a smaller position, I additionally thought Seth Numrich did effectively. One might make use of the phrase “ensemble solid” as a mild euphemism to counsel that hardly anyone registers. There are just too many individuals and never sufficient particular particulars. Following the matinee efficiency of Leopoldstadt, we attended Martyna Majok’s Price of Dwelling, which you’ve reviewed right here, Cameron. I’ll solely add that the extraordinary energy and ease of Majok’s writing—her potential to create flawed, noble human beings who actually register as characters—was an virtually therapeutic expertise for me. I think about the 2 performs will face off for the Tonys. I definitely know the place I discovered nice artwork that moved me deeply.