Music to Rock a Revolution: “Rock ‘n’ Roll”

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Photo credit: The Longwood Players; the cast does not headbang in this production.

 

Presented by The Longwood Players
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Kaitlyn Chantry

Cambridge YMCA Theater
820 Mass. Ave.
Central Square, Cambridge MA
November 9 – 17
Longwood Players Facebook Page

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge) If you enjoy rock legends such as The Doors, The Velvet Underground, or Pink Floyd (Sid Barrett) with a dollop of political science philosophy, Rock ‘n’ Roll is for you. If not, I suggest skipping this heady production by The Longwood Players. There is a lot to value here but the cerebral participation necessary to enjoy Tom Stoppard’s work may overwhelm the audience goer expecting a lighter devotional to Rock.

Events flip flop between Cambridge, England and Prague beginning in 1968 when Russia began its occupation of Czechoslavakia through 1992 when the Czech Republic separated from Slovakia. The meat of the play centers around Jan (James Atkinson) and Max (Anthony Mullin) as they argue about the state of their homeland and Communist theories. Jan believes is a better, more ideal Czechoslavakia and assumes the position of a political prophet. He idolizes rock music and the freedom it symbolizes. The scenes are infused with rock samples which punctuate the contents of a scene and foreshadows what is next to come. Stoppard’s words can convey only so much. What is left unarticulated is expressed by the music.

In general, it is an excellently produced show. The cast works well together- there are a few genuinely tender moments in both acts. Mullin is dashing as Max and Atkinson is both cowardly and sincere as Jan, a man so deep in his own theoretical BS that he believes every lie he tells himself.  Matthew Zahnzinger gives a breakaway performance as the charmingly pathetic Nigel. He expresses complete thoughts in a glance and brings levity to emotionally hefty scenes.

All of the female cast members give excellent performances. In particular, Joy Lamberton should be applauded for her work as both spicy wife Eleanor and as Esme (older). She does double duty with aplomb and commits to her English accent as well.

Stoppard’s script is heavy with information. The action is sometimes difficult to follow especially as major events occur off stage like in a Greek tragedy. In the script, the characters eventually come full circle: the lovers reunite and run away together, the regrets of youth are finally fulfilled by the next generation, and The Czech Republic sees a kick-ass concert by The Stones. Kaitlyn Chantry’s direction leaves something to be desired. Although the emotional content of Rock ‘n’ Roll is conveyed the dramatic outline (themes, metaphor, etc.) remains undeveloped. Scenes pile up one after the other seemingly without connection. It is a largely up to the audience to parse out the meaning and motivations behind them. Although the talents of the cast are gratifying to watch it is not enough to sustain the production. As the show ends, we are left without closure.

Rock ‘n’ Roll has a kick-ass soundtrack and focuses on some very complex issues. This is a production that needs to be mulled over with a glass of wine (or not) and a history book. The programme provides an excellent glossary of terms that should be read before and after the performance as well as an index of historical events for reference. You don’t need them to enjoy the performance, but I highly recommend them for full comprehension.

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