Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Shocker from Tom Stoppard, Rock and Roll

The central character in the latest Tom Stoppard play, "Rock and Roll," which has just arrived on Broadway from London, is a familiar figure, an unashamed academic Soviet apologist named Max, played with pugnacious vigor by Brian Cox...There was no act of barbarism by the Soviets too wicked to defend, no individual act of courage by those opposed to the dehumanizing effects of communist rule too valiant to be dismissed as "bourgeois individualism."...Trapped in their entrenched positions, too proud to admit a mistake, too closed in their minds to appraise the mounting evidence against their case, they maintained a pious air of superiority over those they dismissed as suffering from "false consciousness."...Without the conspicuous presence of Max and his comrades, it has become far less easy to identify those who, posing often as guardians of liberty, curtail free speech by stifling views they cannot abide...Among those who ostensibly devote their lives to gender equality, racial tolerance, and academic meritocracy are Maxes — and Maxines — galore, ready to close down debates and discussions with which they do not agree....Conspicuous Presence, review of Tom Stoppard's Rock and Roll, Nicholas Wapshott, New York Sun, 11/14/2007

Things change. Back when the great Lady Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the West End was not a place for those with such views as those suggested by Stoppard's play. John Cleese noted in an interview decades back that a person who mentioned Maggie's name in a favorable light at a cast party in London would be henceforth banned from the theater social circuit. And as brilliant as some of Britain's political dramas have been, both on stage and on screen, such as the dazzling House of Cards trilogy or A Very British Coup, the villains have always been on the Right. Being on the hard Left was in the tradition of the thee-a-tuh (and its child, the movies) since Shaw and the Fabians invented British socialism in the late 19th century. Unlike the U.S., where big theater, that is to say, Broadway, has relapsed into the near-vaudevillean silliness of the early 20th century, the Brits haven't lost their theater chops as playwrights. Stoppard is unquestionably Shaw's heir as the greatest playwright in English, and deservedly so. He's brilliant, insightful, and a gifted dramaturgist willing to take many risks to enliven an ancient art form. His sharp, brilliant focus on the unmentionable pathology of Leftism (and its ghastly heirs) in the Academy is very, very welcome. Go see it, but you'll have to wait until the strike ends.


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