AISLE SAY Toronto
ROCK AND ROLL
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Donna Feore
Starring Kenneth Welsh, Fiona Reid and Shaun Smyth
Through October 24th
Reviewed by Robin Breon
Although Mathew Jocelyn is the new artistic and general director elect at The Canadian Stage Company, the 2009-2010 season is the last one programmed by Marty Bragg,
Mr. Jocelyn's predecessor. And Mr. Bragg should be given top marks for
choosing to open the season with this intellectually and dramatically
compelling chronology of events that portrays the counter-cultural
rebellion in the West and the East from 1968 to 1990.
Through the eyes of Jan (Shaun Smyth), the ex-pat Czech and the
historical through-line character of the play (who parallels some
aspects of Mr. Stoppard's own life) we relive the passionate debates of
the period that condemned war, racism and capitalism while embarking on
a wild search for alternatives filtered through the rose colored,
hyperopic lens of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. In the end Jan's
philosophy is neither utopian nor scientific but it certainly is
manifested in a captivating and sympathetic performance by Shaun Smyth.
The play proceeds in a lockstep chronology that alternates between Prague and Cambridge. Kenneth Welsh
plays Max, a life long member of the Communist Party in the U.K. who
runs through the whole litany of scale tipping by weighing the moral
and political depravity of the Western capitalist countries while
trying desperately to defend the abject disappointments of the Eastern
The casting is perfect in that Welsh brings real gravitas to the role
by way of his impressive resume in film, television and theatre. His
riveting stage presence compels the audience to listen to the argument
in favor of communism -- no small task.
Fiona Reid plays his wife, Eleanor, a woman who struggles with
breast cancer and a nascent feminist consciousness in the first act and
then does a double reverse as her own daughter (Esme) 20 years later in
the second act. Not quite a hat trick, but very impressive and Welsh's
equal in every respect.
The construction of the play is a bit problematic in that it is
advanced mainly by a series of Shavian parle de deux that really do not
make full use of the investment in actor power that the cast
encompasses. Stoppard rarely brings more than two or three characters
(friends, professional colleagues, police agents, etc) together at one
time and only once does he take a chance on a full table of people at a
dinner party. I was actually surprised to be reminded at the curtain
call that there are 11 actors in the show.
This is unfortunate because director Donna Feore is just the
person who could effectively manipulate crowds, group discussions,
demonstrators, police raids, etc. in scenes portraying rebellion as
well as repression. But the playwright doesn't really give her much
opportunity in this regard.
Still, Tom Stoppard remains a fine playwright who doesn't
hesitate to take on the huge themes that may darken the world but
brighten the theatre. His delicate touch allows us to see the
realpolitik as well as the really personal. That is a gift that very
few of his contemporaries possess.
Return to Home Page