Bob and I did a program on the work of Tom Stoppard because he is a major contemporary playwright whose work we enjoy. We have seen quite a few productions of his plays. For the program, we not only read biographical material about him, but also read some of the plays which we have not seen. I wrote up my reactions to them in my reading journal and share them with you.
Night and Day
What is interesting about this play is its cast. Diane Rigg and John Thaw must have been great. It is the story of journalists in Africa, trying to scoop each other for a story. There is a great deal of commentary about politics and journalism with an ironic twist at the end. The protagonist believes in worker’s rights, but it is a strike that makes his scoop of an interview with the country’s president worthless, while a young journalist who was a scab on another paper is killed trying to scoop the older, street smart guy. I thought the character of the wife who speaks her thoughts aloud was distracting. She is a bored housewife who will sleep with anybody. I am sure Rigg made the part work but it doesn’t work on the page. This is something we have learned from reading and seeing plays. The script is only an incomplete version of a play. It is the production and the actors that complete it. However, back to the script. The irony of the journalistic manipulations is much more interesting than some of the interpersonal relations, at least on the page.
Artist Descending A Staircase
I genuinely enjoyed this play. I found it funny and touching and again ironic. It is a commentary on art as you might expect from the play of the title referring to the famous painting of the nude descending a staircase. It is intricate in its flashbacks, starting with two old artists disputing what happened to their friend who lies dead at the bottom of the stairs. They were avant garde artists and there is a lot of nonsense spouted about new forms. The flashbacks show them as young men, as silly as they are as old men. They are in love with a blind girl who imagines their art which she has only seen once. She pairs up with the wrong artist because she describes the painting that the one she loved was standing in front of. However, given their bizarre art, it could have been a different painting. When deserted by the young men at one point, she falls out of their studio window and is killed. There is also a lot of nonsense of them being on a walking tour and inadvertently walking into the middle of World War I. We then go back to the beginning and it may turn out that either someone else or the two artists killed their friend or it was an accident. It ends with the quote from Lear about being like flies to wanton boys. This works since all through the play, they have been bothered by flies which they kill. This was originally a radio play and Stoppard was surprised when it was adapted to the stage. The play was a success which he attributes to the director and the actors.
This is another fascinating play by Stoppard. I would love to have seen the original cast. As it is, one can imagine it with Diana Rigg and Michael Hordern. He plays a philosopher named George Moore who feels his work would have gotten more attention if the other George Moore hadn’t gotten there first. Diana Rigg is his wife, a former music comedy singer who cannot remember words to the songs she is supposed to sing. Moore is working on a speech about God and man. It turns out the man he is to debate is dead. He in fact the corpse in his wife’s bedroom. Moore doesn’t know much of what is going on. There are also a number of acrobats tumbling until one of them dies and a naked secretary on a swing. It makes as much sense as the philosophy Stoppard is satirizing. There are also a rabbit and a tortoise who are essential to the plot. Moore or the audience doesn’t know what is going on between his wife and the various men who visit her bedroom, often when she is nude.