The Revolution Will Be Amplified


It’s odd to imagine Tom Stoppard as a fan of classic rock. Post-Romantic orchestral works, or maybe Baroque fugues, seem a better match for his plays, which inevitably weave ideas into dizzying symphonic and contrapuntal patterns.

Yet in the November issue of Vanity Fair, Stoppard confessed that he wrote Ar¬ca¬dia while listening to the Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and penned The Coast of Utopia while hit¬ting the repeat button on-yikes!-Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”

For further evidence of the playwright’s improbable taste in tunes, there’s Rock ’n’ Roll, which opened on Broadway in early November after a run in England. A tale of political idealism and pragmatism in twentieth-century England and Czechoslovakia, the play samples numerous favorites from the vinyl era, drawing an implicit parallel between musical rebelliousness and democratic iconoclasm. Unfortunately, the amped-up pop-culture motif doesn’t do enough for the show’s accessibility: Rock ’n’ Roll is a streamlined turbine of political discourse and historical allusion, lacking the delightful whimsy that characterizes much of Stoppard’s work. Even the brainy epic The Coast of Utopia had a certain playfulness about it: Rock ’n’ Roll just feels argumentative.

The three-hour drama focuses on two figures: Max, a Cambridge professor who’s a dyed-in-the-wool Communist, and Jan, a student and rock fan who returns...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.