Two Books, Two Plays (28 cents)

We saw two plays at the Studio Theater this week, Tom Stoppard’s “Rock & Roll” and August Wilson’s “Radio Golf”.

Having seen “Arcadia” so recently at the Folger, we were ready for another stimulating evening watching a Stoppard play.  We were disappointed, not so much with the performance, but with the play itself.  A recent play, “Rock & Roll” tells the story of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the later overthrow of Czech communism, through the eyes of a variety of English and Czech characters.  The two central characters are an English professor who is a dyed in the wool Communist and believes that, although Communism has not yet shown its ability to create the perfect society in practice, that day will come, and one should not lose heart.  The other is a young Czech man who was a disciple of the professor during the 1960’s (also being engaged in some espionage at the time), and who returned to Czechoslovakia in 1968 (as opposed to the other Czechs who remained to the west of the Iron Curtain if they had the chance to) with his large collection of rock and roll records, to prove that Czech communism (even after the Soviet invasion) could save itself and promote the best possible society.  He was wrong, of course, and his records, which were apparently the most important things in his life, were targeted by the government and destroyed.

The story moves ahead about 30 years, everyone is older, relationships have frayed and reformed, and our two main characters seem to have lost much more than they gained.  Well, there’s more to it than this, but you get the idea, and the idea was not very profound.

And Stoppard’s normally sharp dialogue and intersections of plots, thoughts, and trends?  Not really here.  I thought that the play was a good first draft, in need of editing, rewriting, dramaturging, and a few read throughs before it is ready for prime time.

Then last night we saw “Radio Golf”, Wilson’s last play, about a would be black candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh, and the moral dilemma that arises when he learns that one of the old abandoned houses that his real estate development company is tearing down (to replace with a highrise apartment building, complete with an up to date retail component) may still be owned by its former owner, that the tax sale at which the property was purchased was illegally consummated.  What to do?  Tear it down anyway, in spite of the former owner’s somewhat mentally disturbed son’s rantings?  Or alter the project by desigining around the house, which may be impossible.  The mayoral candidate and his wife, his ambitious business partner, the neighborhood handyman, and the son of the former owner – that’s the cast, and what a wonderful job they do in a play which is almost perfect, and which grasps many of the difficult issues that come to play with African-Americans seeking office in a white dominated city, with urban development that will hurt some as it helps many, with affirmative action programs and the question of whether acting as a “black face” in order to get a contract for a company whose economic ownership and control is really non-black, with education versus street smarts, etc.

Very much recommended.

The two books?  Light reading for a change, and I recommend both.  Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules, about a Russian entrepeneur/arms dealer, the latest challenge for Mossad’s Gabriel Allon, and Laura Lippman’s Another Thing to Fall, where Baltimore journalist turned private eye Tess Monaghan this times unravels a series of murders, burglaries and arsons connected with the production of a TV mini-series.

I enjoyed them both.

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