Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Rock 'n' Roll
Also see Susan's review of Heroes
Washington is currently experiencing a small Tom Stoppard festival. The Studio Theatre's engaging and thought-provoking production of Rock 'n' Roll joins Heroes, Stoppard's translation of a French play at a theater across the Potomac River in Alexandria, and the Folger Theatre is about to host a production of Arcadia.
Director Joy Zinoman, who is also the founding artistic director of Studio, has chosen the smallest of her three theaters and in-the-round staging for Stoppard's intimate epic of politics, freedom and music from 1968 through 1990. If the goal of the Prague Spring, the 1968 liberalization of Czechoslovakia later crushed by Soviet troops, was "socialism with a human face," Stoppard is trying to present ideology with a human faceand he succeeds beautifully.
The main conflict is between emotion and intellect: the heart of the drama is Jan (Stafford Clark-Price), a Czech graduate student at Cambridge, while the brain is his professor, a bookish Marxist named Max (Ted van Griethuysen). Where Jan believes that Communism can mean freedom, Max is determined to believe in his theories at the expense of looking at real-life experiences. He criticizes the Czechoslovakian government for moving away from Soviet authority and supports the ensuing crackdown.
What makes these interactions more than just intellectual dialogue is that Jan sees music rather than politics or economics as the vehicle for liberty. As life in Prague becomes increasingly restricted, he can still escape with the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and a homegrown group called the Plastic People of the Universe.
While the two lead actors, comfortably physical Clark-Price and rigid van Griethuysen, provide the central dramatic tension, the linchpin of the performance is the lovely and moving Lisa Harrow, who plays Max's wife Eleanor in the early scenes and later Max's daughter Esme. These women don't care about theoretical puzzles; they're fighting for their lives and yearning for personal fulfillment. Harrow's performance is studied yet subtle: her bone-weariness as Eleanor evaporates when she takes over the role of Esme from young Katie Henney, and the two performers share a tone of voice and a look of wonder.
The Band: David Chandler Hasty, Adam Pribila, Jay Sullivan, Alex Vernon