By Bob Shuman
Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play Leopoldstadt—his 19th on Broadway–which opened October 2, at the Longacre Theatre, is epic, the English way, with huge scope and significance, about the need to win, and to always find a way to win: in relationships, in assimilation and even, as much as possible, against the ultimate horrors of the last century. There is too short a glance at Eastern European absurdism that informs previous plays by the author, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Dogg’s Hamlet, which may have been appropriate (some contend the form was a reaction to the existential effects of World War II), given his devastating theme: the destruction of a Viennese and Galician family, from their lives in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Austrian independence; from the Anschluss to immigration to new lands in the West. Instead, in Patrick Marber’s first-rate production, a measured cinematic approach seems to have been a guide, as if Freddie Young’s technically sharp, crystal-clear camera could be brought in for perfect scenic composition (the settings are by Richard Hudson, with Costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and lighting design by Neil Austin; project design, using period photography, is by Isaac Madge and sound design and original music are by Adam Cork), with allusions, in terms of writing, to Anna Karenina, Chekhov, Hedda Gabler, Woyzeck, and probably more classic work–Brecht should be mentioned, as well, for some might conjecture that events of this scale, in the theatre, may need to happen through one great Mother Courage figure, instead of a family. The characters in the play—and there are 38 of them, including young actors—a number of whom are interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, are not necessarily likable or sympathetic, and many are cunning, perhaps due to the fact that the momentum of the story does not allow enough time with each—they’re opportunists overwhelmed by barbarity.
For theatregoers, Tom Stoppard means erudite fun at the most sophisticated levels, but although expert at keeping his play moving–with language more windy and literary than imitative of real speech (and with excellent monologues)–there’s not much intrinsically funny here, in a dark documentary-like work about survival skills, literal survival skills, probably more appropriately examined in film. There may be a comic joke about a cigar cutter, which promises to let loose mayhem, a Freudian slip or provocation to be found, a suppressed or false memory, which the Viennese doctor might find amusing, but the serious subject also forces the viewer to examine contemporary societal splits and abysses, discussed , for example, by John Murray Cuddihy in his The Ordeal of Civility (1974), whose thesis is expressed by Chilton Williamson, Jr. as: “Jews and the modern West have been at odds with one another for [more than] the past 150 years, as a tribal and essentially premodern people confronted a civilization representing secularized Christianity . . . and . . . celebrants of the illusory “Judeo-Christian” civilization have deliberately disguised the schism . . . prevent(ing it from) . . . coalescing (157).” The divide continues, in the public eye, from blatant antisemitism, where synagogues need to be monitored on holy days, to the mindless, escapism of social media chattering, chronicled as recently as the present, as celebrities like Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Whoopi Goldberg express off-the-cuff opinion in cancel culture. Antisemitism is an endless polarizing, immobilizing subject, in a country that, by all accounts, has been very good to and for Jews, but has never asked or expected them, to explain themselves, with self-reflection, before American society in the way that African-Americans have been asked to do, for example, in the Million Man March (and that may be a source of contention). Yet, high profile cases, in the Jewish community, are not unknown and have profoundly upset the country, such as, in the recent past, those concerning Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell. A playwright could choose to self-identify as “British,” instead of “coming out” as Jewish, for reasons, personal and myriad, but the irony is not lost, that a largely realistic, historical drama, like Leopoldstadt, is an example of what the ‘60s and a playwright like Tom Stoppard, helped drive out of fashion, only to be refound again, now, in the present day, perhaps like his heritage.
Bluffing, as a theme, does come up in Leopoldstadt, from a card game, to counting numbers, to a family business, and the family’s definition of its religion. Because of Stoppard’s stature as a major artist, as well as a character in the play, who apparently knew little about his own family, theatregoers might question how much subterfuge is being used about his past and what he knew about himself. “Mathematics is the only place where one can make yourself clear,” intones one of the scholars in the play, but theatregoers may still be perplexed about how Stoppard thought of himself and when, before his admission, and to which version of the self he is referring to (of course, being Jewish in the entertainment field is nothing unusual or stigmatizing—similarly, no one raised an eyebrow when Carol Channing exposed the fact that she was of African-American lineage, in her autobiography). There is always a hide-and-seek game in fiction with real characters—are we watching fiction or autobiography? Also, to what extent is the fiction protective, and can one have it both ways, or many ways, when readers or audience members might be asking for less rationalized alternatives to reality and more clarity? Nevertheless, assuming that authors will write more conservatively as they age, there are real reasons to admire Leopoldstadt, none the least to “never forget”—and for the ensemble work of the actors, including David Krumholtz, Faye Castelow, and Jenna Augen, to only choose three. A work of this sheer expanse and literary quality is so hard to find anywhere, whether an author is young or old, Jewish, Buddhist, or a Christian Scientist: Where else today could another script be found, for example, where one would actually want to have had a traditionalist, like David Lean, render it on screen?
Copyright © Bob Shuman; all rights reserved.
Press: Michelle Farabaugh, Angela Yamarone, Boneau/Bryan-Brown
(Photo from the London production.)
John Murray Cuddihy’s book The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity is discussed in The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (Citadel Press, 2004).
Sir Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece. GO!”
Stoppard’s 19th Production on Broadway,
Previews Begin Wednesday, September 14
Opening Sunday, October 2
In a Limited Engagement at the Longacre Theatre
Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Patrick Marber and produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, Roy Furman, and Lorne Michaels.
Leopoldstadt’s full 38-member company, which includes several members of the original West End company and 24 actors making their Broadway debuts, will feature Jesse Aaronson* (The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway), Betsy Aidem (Prayer for the French Republic), Jenna Augen* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Japhet Balaban* (The Thing About Harry on Freeform), Corey Brill (“The Walking Dead,” Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Daniel Cantor* (Tuesdays with Morrie off-Broadway), Faye Castelow* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Erica Dasher* (“Jane By Design”), Eden Epstein* (“Sweetbitter” on Starz, “See” on Apple TV+), Gina Ferrall (Big River, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Arty Froushan* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Charlotte Graham* (The Tempest at A.R.T.), Matt Harrington (Matilda The Musical), Jacqueline Jarrold (The Cherry Orchard), Sarah Killough (Travesties), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs,” Oppenheimer), Caissie Levy (The Bedwetter; Caroline, or Change), Colleen Litchfield* (“The Crowded Room” on Apple TV+), Tedra Millan (Present Laughter, The Wolves), Aaron Neil* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Theatre World Award winner Seth Numrich (Travesties, War Horse), Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Chris Stevens*, Sara Topham (Travesties), three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz (Assassins, Falsettos, Burn This), Dylan S. Wallach (Betrayal), Reese Bogin*, Max Ryan Burach*, Calvin James Davis*, Michael Deaner*, Romy Fay* (“Best Foot Forward” on Apple TV+), Pearl Scarlett Gold*, Jaxon Cain Grundleger*, Wesley Holloway*, Ava Michele Hyl*, Joshua Satine*, Aaron Shuf*, and Drew Ryan Squire*.
* indicates an actor making their Broadway debut.
Leopoldstadt’s limited Broadway engagement begins previews Wednesday, September 14 ahead of a Sunday, October 2 opening night at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street).
Perhaps the most personal play of Stoppard’s unmatched career, Leopoldstadt opened in London’s West End to rave critical acclaim on January 25, 2020. A planned extension due to overwhelming demand was curtailed due to the COVID-19 lockdown seven weeks later. In late 2021, the play returned for a further 12-week engagement. Both runs completely sold out and Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020.
Leopoldstadt will mark Tom Stoppard’s 19th play on Broadway since his groundbreaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opened 55 years ago. Stoppard has won four Best Play Tony Awards, more than any other playwright in history.
Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the Jewish quarter. This passionate drama of love and endurance begins in the last days of 1899 and follows one extended family deep into the heart of the 20th Century. Full of his customary wit and beauty, Tom Stoppard’s late work spans fifty years of time over two hours. The Financial Times said, “This is a momentous new play. Tom Stoppard has reached back into his own family history to craft a work that is both epic and intimate; that is profoundly personal, but which concerns us all.” With a cast of 38 and direction by Patrick Marber, Leopoldstadt is a “magnificent masterpiece” (The Independent) that must not be missed.
Leopoldstadt’s creative team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion King, La Bête), costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by three-time Tony Award winner Neil Austin (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Company, Travesties), sound and original music by Tony Award winner Adam Cork (Red, Travesties), video design by Isaac Madge, movement by Emily Jane Boyle, and hair, wig & makeup design by Campbell Young & Associates. Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Maureen Kelleher, and UK casting is by Amy Ball CDG.
Co-producers of Leopoldstadt include Stephanie P. McClelland, Gavin Kalin, Delman Sloan, Brad Edgerton, Eilene Davidson, Patrick Gracey, Burnt Umber Productions, Cue to Cue Productions, No Guarantees, Robert Nederlander, Jr., Thomas S. Perakos, Sanford Robertson, Iris Smith, The Factor Gavin Partnership, Jamie deRoy / Catherine Adler, Dodge Hall Productions / Waverly Productions, Ricardo Hornos / Robert Tichio, Heni Koenigsberg / Wendy Federman, Brian Spector / Judith Seinfeld, and Richard Winkler / Alan Shorr.
Tickets are on sale online at Telecharge.com or by phone at 212-239-6200.
For 10+ Group Sales information contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or call 866-302-0995.
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