Stoppard Goes Electric
A trio of Tom Stoppard's early television plays proves to be more academic than entertaining.
Displayed here for panting fans of the playwright's genius are examples of themes he developed more impressively in later works. For example, interests like marital stress -- handled as long ago as The Real Thing and as recently as the Tony-winning Coast of Utopia -- occupy him in two of the items; while the existential joke that life often seems to be is also depicted in two entries, as it manifestly is in Stoppard's first genuine blockbuster, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
But the disadvantages of a production like this one may outweigh the advantages. For while these teleplays yield numerous insights for academics preparing treatises on Stoppard, they're nowhere near as laugh-provoking or viscerally charging as the works Stoppard began producing just about concurrently with these bagatelles. Neither are these one-acts' mediocre quality enhanced by the adequate but hardly inspired cast nor directors Tim Errickson (Teeth), Christopher Thomasson (Another Moon Called Earth), and Rachel Wood (A Separate Peace).
The most humorous of the trio is Teeth, wherein dentist Harry Dunn (Christopher Yeatts) is checking best friend George Pollock (Mac Brydon) for cavities while recounting how busy the unseen Mrs. Dunn has been. What's clear to the audience and to Harry is that George is having an affair with the always-occupied Prudence. Landing George in the reclining chair is just what Harry has been waiting to do. Plus, he's got designs on George's wife, Mary (Sara Thigpen), who just happens to be the at-hand dental assistant. It's an amusing set-up, but one calling for far fewer minutes than Stoppard devotes to it. Furthermore, it's been eclipsed by the drilling scene Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman play in Marathon Man. Stoppard was there first but not foremost.
For Another Moon Called Earth, Stoppard supplies the line that perhaps best sums up the world view he most assiduously and continuously calls into question: "Everything is logical and connects into the grand design." The comment is uttered by historian Bone (Richard Brundage), whose languishing wife, Penelope (Kate Ross), is in an adjacent bedroom where she's often serviced by attending physician Albert (Yeatts).
Missing from the household is Penelope's longtime nanny, Pinkerton, who turns out to be involved in a dramatic incident that may have had more to do with Penelope than she lets on. While the married couple spars, a parade honoring an astronaut is passing by and attesting to Penelope's belief that a moon landing has made the once reliable universe "all random." Here, Stoppard takes on seismic shifts in contemporary thought but not as trenchantly or economically as he does in the first act of Jumpers.
Things go molto existential in A Separate Peace (which is not an adaptation of the John Knowles novel that carries the same title). John Brown (Bill Green), a physically healthy man, insinuates himself at a hospital because he doesn't want to be free-floating in society. Encouraged by a matron (Ross) to try basket-weaving and then painting, he's also befriended by Nurse Jones (Sara Thigpen) and a doctor (Brundage), who's determined to find out who Brown is. Once again, Stoppard takes far more time than needed to portray Brown's relatively pleasant angst.