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A CurtainUp Feature: Playwrights
An Overview of Tom Stoppard's Career
By Elyse Sommer
Stoppard, known as one of our most erudite and daring playwrights, topped himself with an epic trilogy reminiscent of Chekhov and Tolstoy's War and Peace. The Coast of Utopia which premiered in London in 2004 took over Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater for the entire 2006-07 season. Unlike the London production which most people saw all in one day, Lincoln Center opted to roll out the trilogy a play at a time-- with only a few weeks of marathon showings during the last month of the run (which interestingly, sold out immediately).
Chronology of Produced Plays
Trademarks Of Stoppard's Plays
Links To Plays Reviewed and Books
He was born Tomas Straussler -- place: Zlin, Czechoslovakia; time: July 3, 1937. His father, a doctor, moved his wife and two sons to Singapore when Tom was just two years old. In 1941, before the Japanese invasion Tom, his brother and his mother were evacuated to India. The senior Straussler stayed behind and was killed in 1946. Martha Strausler married British army officer Kenneth Stoppard. The very British Stoppard was an unlikely husband for a Czech woman with vaguely Jewish links (It's been fairly recent since Stoppard became aware not only that both his parents were Jewish but that many maternal and paternal relatives perished in the Holocaust). Odd or not, Stoppard did marry Martha and before long moved her and her boys to Bristol, England. Tom Straussler became Tom Stoppard, the namesake of a man who, according to his own recently published account about his background" believed with Cecil Rhodes that to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life. . . His Utopia would have been populated by landed gentry, honest yeomen and Gurkhas."
Tom Stoppard left school at seventeen and began his writing career as a journalist. In 1960 he quit full time newspaper work to freelance, writing critical articles, two pseudonymous weekly columns and his first full-length play, A Walk On the Water (produced in 1968 as Enter a Free Man and described by the playwright as a composite of several plays he admired and thus not an original work). His other early playwriting efforts include a one-acter, The Gamblers, which was performed by the University of Bristol drama department in 1965.
He also put in a season (September 1962 -April 1963) as a London drama critic writing reviews and interviews under the by-line, William Boot. This name is the first sign of his enduring penchant for word play and literary allusion. Boot is a name from an Evelyn Waugh novel named Scoop. This name as well as Moon (part of the title of his novel Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon) crop up in other Stoppard works with Boot and Moon variations of the Yiddish schlemiel and schlemazel -- the first being the character who makes things happen, and the latter to whom they happen.
Through the 60s, Stoppard delved into radio and television writing as well as the theater and also had three short stories published in an anthology of stories by new writers. His career-defining work evolved from a one-act play written in 1964, performed two years later at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and then at the Old Vic in London. That play about two minor characters from Hamlet was of course Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It established the twenty-nine-year-old Stoppard as a major success.
As can be readily seen from the chronological list of his plays below, Stoppard was hardly a one-hit wonder. He also kept up his writing credentials in the world of radio, television and film. His most recent and wildly successful screenplay, the 1999 Oscar winner Shakespeare In Love, brought him full circle to his first big hit which was also indebted to the Bard. The film seems to have stirred up a renewed interest in reviving all things Stoppard.
The prolific playwright found time to become engaged in the issue of human rights issues during the 70s, especially in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union about which he wrote numerous newspaper articles. His political concerns were also evident in his work -- i.e. Every Good Boy Deserves a Favor (1977) a play about a political dissident confined to a Soviet mental hospital and accompanied by an orchestral score composed by Andre Previn. Still, he is not considered as a playwright committed to politics; in fact, he freely admits to voting for Margaret Thatcher because he admired her tough attitude to the unions even as he deplored her philistinism. As he explains such seemingly diverse stands, "I have been admirably consistent in my lack of certainty."
As Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare In Love, portrayed Shakespeare's evolution as a playwright inspired by his love affair with an actress, Stoppard's earlier stage play (also a successful movie), The Real Thing is an example of real life Stoppardian irony since his affair with that play's leading lady, Felicity Kendal, led to the break-up of his 17-year marriage.
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Chronology of Produced Plays
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967)
Enter a Free Man (1968)
The Real Inspector Hound (1968)
After Magritte (1970)
Dirty Linen and New-Fund-Land (1976)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977)
Night and Day (1978)
Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth (1979)
Undiscovered Country (1979) and Dalliance (1986)
On the 3 (1981)
The Real Thing (1982)
Rough Crossing (1984)
Indian Ink (1995)
The Invention of Love (1997)
A Separate Peace (1966)
Another Moon Called Earth (1967)
Neutral Ground (1968)
The Boundary (1975)
Three Men In a Boat (1976)
Professional Foul (1977)
Squaring the Circle (1984)
Poodle Springs (1998)
The Di"solution of Dominic Boot (1964)
"M" Is For Moon Among Other Things (1964)
If You're Glad, I'll Be Frank (1965)
Albert's Bridge (1967)
Where Are They Now? (1970)
Artist Descending a Staircase (1972)
The Dog It Was That Died (1982)
In the Native State (1991-- later the stage play, Indian Ink)
The Romantic Englishwoman (1975)
The Human Factor (1980)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
The Russia House (1991)
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
Billy Bathgate (1991)
Shakespeare In Love (1998)
Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon (1965)
Misc. Short Stories
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Trademarks Of Stoppard's Plays
A Stoppard play tends to to overflow with ideas -- philosophical, scientific, literary -- all the subjects that engage the playwright's fertile and ever curious mind. The plots tend to be difficult to pin down in terms of beginning-middle-end summations. In fact he's admitted that he has problems thinking of stories. "Every one of my plays is flawed by this. I have to exert myself enormously to construct a story and then tell it properly." With plot or without, all are dished up with enormous wit. Puns, allusion, word play of all kinds keep audiences alert and amused. As Stoppard himself once said about his love for words: "I really dig words more than I can speak them. There are no words to say how much I love [words]."
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Links To Play Reviews
Arcadia (2014 Philadelphia Lantern Theater Company)
Coast of Utopia - trilogy (London)
The Coast of Utopia (Broadway)
Coast of Utopia - trilogy (Broadway)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour(Philadelphia 2002)>
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour(London 2009)>
Hapgood (DC 2005)
Hapgood (Williamstown 2013)
Indian Ink (2014 Off-Broadway)
Indian Ink (NY premiere--off-Broadway)
Indian Ink (DC)
The Invention of Love (London)
Jumpers (London & Broadway)
Night and Day
On the Razzle (NY--Jean Cocteau)
On the Razzle (Berkshires--WTF
The Real Thing (Broadway 2014)
The Real Thing (Philadelphia 2014)
The Real Thing (London 2010)
The Real Thing (London)
The Real Thing (NY)
Rock and Roll (London and Broadway)
Rock 'N' Roll/ Tom Stoppard(Los Angeles2010)
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in rep with Hamlet/ (Off-Broadway2014)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (London 2011)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (NJ Shakespeare Company)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Berkshires)
Rough Crossing (Shakespeare & Co., 2007) Travesties(New Jersey 2012)
Conversations With Stoppard by Mel Gussow. 1996 paperback
The Theatre of Tom Stoppard by Anthony Jenkins, paperback 1989
Indian Ink paperback.
The Invention of Love paperback
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead paperback (still Stoppard's most read play)
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Quotes From Plays and by Stoppard
You're all doing it to impress each other. . .the winner isn't democracy -- just business. Jacob died for the women's page!
Ruth Carson, Night and Day
Freedom of the press is freedom to gossip
--President Mageeba, Night and Day the African nation dictator in defense of his family controlled newspaper.
I'm a fireman who goes to fires. I don't file prose; I file facts.
-- cynical newsman Richard Wagner, Night and Day.
The only beginning is birth and the only end is death. If you can't count on that, what can you count on?
Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where's it going to end?
--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the title characters in one of their endless verbal shuffles. Below a somewhat longer exchange:
Perhaps they've all trampled each other to death in the rush....Give them a shout. Something provocative. Intrigue them. --Rosencrantz
Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are...condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one--that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it'll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we'd know that we were lost. (He sits.) A Chinaman of the T'ang Dynasty--and, by which definition, a philosopher--dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; in his two-fold security. A good pause.-- Guildenstern
Fire! -- Rosencrantz (jumping up)
It's all right--I'm demonstrating the misuse of free speech. To prove that it exists. Rosencrantz
I'm afraid I worship mauve! -- a decorator on his deathbed upon being asked about his religion in Indian Ink. As usual Stoppard weaves a variety of topics into his word web -- for example, this definition of the Indian art concept Rasa : Rasa is what you must feel when you see a painting or hear music: it is the emotion which the artist must arouse in you....a state of heightened delight.
I'm not the woman you think I am. I'm not even the woman you think is the woman you think I am
-- Christopher one half of a comic duo disguised as mannequins in On the Razzle.
One false move and we could have a farce on our hands.
-- On the Razzle
I learned three things . . .during the war. . .Firstly, you're either a revolutionary or you're not, and if you're not you might as well be an artist as anything else. Secondly, if you can't be an artist, you might as well be a revolutionary. I forget the third thing
-- Henry Carr the leading character in Travesties
What's it about? -- When someone echoed Rosencrantz and posed this question to the witty playwright he promptly replied It's about to make me very rich.
The central paradox of theater is that something which starts off complete, as true to itself, as self-contained and as subjective as a sonnet, is then thrown into a kind of spin dryer which is the process of staging the play; and that process is hilariously empirical.
-- Tom Stoppard from a 1999 lecture entitled "Pragmatic Theater" at the NY Public Library.
I think theater ought to be theatrical . . .. you know, shuffling the pack in different ways so that it's —- there's always some kind of ambush involved in the experience. You're being ambushed by an unexpected word, or by an elephant falling out of the cupboard, whatever it is. —Tom Stoppard March 10,1999 interview
On the difference between writing plays and writing films: The main difference is that in films the writer serves the director, and in the theater the director serves the writer -- Broadly speaking, Tom Stoppard, 1988.
Words . . . They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more . . . I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead. — Henry in The Real Thing
This [cricket bat] here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we're trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might... travel. Now, what we've got here [Brodie's script) is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting ‘Ouch!' with your hands stuck into your armpits. (indicating the cricket bat) This isn't better because someone says it's better, or because there's a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It's better because it's better. You don't believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. . . — this wonderful enough quote to include in its entirety is by Henry, the Playwright in The Real Thing Back to Top
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