Stoppard Lite

The acclaim for Tom Stoppard's vastly intellectual, nine-hour Coast of Utopia has prompted a look back in Stoppard Goes Electric, an umbrella title for the Boomerang Theater Company's ambitious presentation of three television plays the dramatist wrote in the 1960s. Each has a different director but draws on a core cast. While they're an interesting glimpse at the formative years of a great playwright, they also point up a flaw that Stoppard himself has confessed to: "I can't do plots and have no interest in plots." Offered by Boomerang in repertory with two other plays, the productions are also hampered by their transfer to the stage: cumbersome scene changes slow the momentum. And although the actors are game enough and there's clearly talent here, they haven't mastered the high, Wildean style to send Stoppard's language into the stratosphere. Lines like "To stay in for tea is almost impossible in decent society, and not to get up at all would probably bring in the authorities" remain earthbound.

Teeth, directed by Tim Errickson, is probably the most successful, although it features a bit of gender-blind casting that distracts from the play, a trifle about adultery and payback. George Pollock (a slippery Mac Brydon), apparently a serial philanderer, visits a dentist (played by Christopher Yeatts with a mature confidence that offsets his youthful looks) for whom George's wife, Mary (Sara Thigpen), works as an assistant. Mary suspects him of cheating, and as soon as he's under a narcotic in the dentist's chair, George implicates himself in hanky-panky with the dentist's wife and then flails around comically to establish a veneer of innocence.

Cuckoldry and medicine also figure in the second piece, Another Moon Called Earth, directed by Christopher Thomasson. In it, Richard Brundage's historian of logic, Bone, is constantly distracted from his intellectual pursuits by his recently bedridden wife, Penelope (a childish, volatile Kate Ross), who watches and listens to a massive parade celebrating "lunarnauts" (Britain's first men on the moon). Penelope cryptically suggests that history has just crossed a Rubicon, and only she and the lunarnauts know it. Penelope's doctor, Albert (Yeatts again), offers some wildly untraditional therapy under the bedcovers while Bone is buried in ancient texts.

Stoppard seems to be satirizing academics who study a "grand design" yet are oblivious to what's under their noses. Some of this is amusing, although comedies about cuckoldry are probably bigger thigh-slappers in Europe, but it doesn't register as top-of-the-line Stoppard, like The Real Inspector Hound or Dirty Linen.

The most serious-minded piece, and the most indicative of Stoppard's admission of plot failure, is A Separate Peace, in which a man named John Brown (Bill Green) arrives at a hospital and talks his way into occupying an empty room. His background is mysterious, and he's got a lot of money to buy serene surroundings, but not at a hotel. Although a young nurse (Shauna Kelly) shows some sympathy, she's a spy for the doctor (Brundage) and the chief nurse (a peremptory Ross), who are determined to uncover Brown's past and boot him from the premises.

In Rachel Wood's sluggish production, the situation sort of shuffles along, and the thrust of it is probably clearer in Britain, with its nationalized health service. Brown's innate desire to be taken care of by the state seems at odds with his capitalist willingness to pay for the care that he doesn't require. To receive the attention he craves, though, he must erase his history entirely. Green's plummy-voiced Brown, however, is such a cipher that one doesn't have much interest in him.

While Boomerang deserves credit for putting some early Stoppard onstage, these adaptations won't enhance his reputation or increase his fan base.

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