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Does anyone else have trouble reading Tom Stoppard?

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BustopherPhantom
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I've been reading Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll for the past four days. Yesterday, I finished at about thirty pages before the end, and then realized, "Wait. Wait. What's going on?"

Not that it was that extreme: I understood the basic plot. It was just everything in-between. So I stopped reading. It was my third attempt. I also own The Invention of Love. Two attempts: haven't finished it.

I've heard the big "how to" tip: don't try and understand every single word, it's like Shakespeare, you coast on the flow, etc.

Does anyone else have a problem with reading Tom Stoppard? Or am I just mentally hilarious?
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-Nellie McKay on the 2006 Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera, in which she played Polly Peachum
Updated On: 12/9/08 at 10:38 AM
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BrianS
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Start with "The Real Thing." Then maybe try "Arcadia" or "Rosencrantz." Some of his plays are very accessible and some you really have to see/read a few times to pick up everything. They're just that dense.

"Rock n Roll" was a sub-par effort IMHO.
If the audience could do better, they'd be up here on stage and I'd be out there watching them. - Ethel Merman
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Vespertine1228
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You're definitely not the only one. I didn't like The Coast of Utopia or Rock 'n' Roll when I saw them. I consider myself a relatively intelligent person, but I had a lot of difficulty sorting through the characters, plots, and historical events.

I think a lot of people don't want to admit that they have no idea what's going on in a Stoppard play. They say, well, this seems incredibly smart and way beyond my understanding, therefore it must be brilliant.

I feel like a lot of times Stoppard's plays aren't populated with characters but rather intellectual ideas that have taken human form. That doesn't do much for me as a reader or an audience member.
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jennamajig
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I can't read a Tom Stoppard play myself. I always wander off the page. I have been able to make it through a production of his play, but still, somewhere in the middle, my mind wanders. I saw Rock 'n' Roll at the Huntington Theater in Boston a few weeks ago and while I enjoyed the music and some part of it, he lost me a little in the middle. The acting was good, it was the writing that lost me.

Nice sets, though.
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Hest882
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Tom Stoppard is my favorite playwright but I never try to read one of his plays before seeing it first. The thrill and delight, for me, has to be first before I can go back and truly savor the cleverness of the structure or dialogue. But then, I'm one of those who maintains that, even with sainted Shakespeare, because plays were meant to be seen not just read you can never quite get the full effect of a play on the written page. (I suspect my English teachers considered that a failing of mine!)
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My review of Rock 'n' Roll at the Huntington.

You are not alone, BustopherPhantom. re: Does anyone else have trouble reading Tom Stoppard?
Rock 'n' Roll
Ed_Mottershead
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I'll probably be shot down for this one, but after 42+ years of trying to like -- or even understand -- Stoppard, I've come to the conclusion that it's a case of the emperor's new clothes. People are embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they don't understand him -- or, even worse, just don't like him. I have no problems following a decent production of Shakespeare; Edward Albee's plays can be puzzling, but they pack a wallop; even Beckett's plays can be fascinating, albeit very disturbing. But with Stoppard it seems that he takes some obscure subject matter, drives it into the ground without going any place and then feels smug because other people don't "understand" him. The Coast of Utopia was a crashing bore -- I saw all three parts -- and at the end, I still didn't see what he was driving at (this after having read it three times). One of my major reservations about Stoppard is that I don't really care about his characters one way or another. Call me philistine if you will, but I just don't like him and pray to God there's not going to be any further -- he's bored the pants off this impassioned theatregoer for the last time and he can be as obscure as Finnegan's Wake. And don't get me started on Finnegan's Wake.
BroadwayEd
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Brick
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Yes.

There are easier to follow when you see them, which is as it should be with plays.

Specifically, when you see them, you follow the relationships between the characters and the ideas hang on the scenes like beautiful ornaments. When you read it, you're trying to string the ideas together as new information to form a plot - which is a nightmare.

You're not alone.
wonkit
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I thought the first two-thirds of UTOPIA were fairly readable but the last play of the trilogy was confusing and had negligible emotional content for me. And ROCK 'N ROLL was incomprehensible period. I don't know much of the music used in RNR - or don't know it well enough to get a lot of the more subtle references. It seemed terribly self-indulgent.
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Rosencrantz in high school was still one of my most thrilling theatre moments. My recomendation is to just let it wash over you--don't try to make sure you pick up everything, etc...
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Yeah, I think with Stoppard, it might be the kind of thing that you should read once, put it down for a while, then try it again.

I know that with Arcadia, I read it and didn't understand a thing, but as soon as I saw it everything clicked and I couldn't get over how brilliant it was, so...
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IMHO, The Real Thing is his only truly accessible play.

I've read The Invention of Love at least 10 times out of sheer shame. I've tried and tried again to understand it but simply can't.

Definitely an Emperor's New Clothes syndrome.
"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
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scaryclowns223
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I managed to read all of Rock n Roll, but did find it a it difficult to get through.

Coast of Utopia, on the other hand, I found completely unintelligible. Too much going down at once to read- too many characters with similar names and too much dialogue that needs very clear direction.
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I usually delight in reading plays. But I find very little joy in reading Stoppard. A lot of it is dense, and I find a lot of it imbued with a pretentious "...what? you don't know about this stuff?" air. My favorite play of his is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, but I'm very familiar with Waiting for Godot and Hamlet.

I put in a valiant attempt to read Coast of Utopia, after all the praise. I couldn't get through it. I stopped about a third of the way into Shipwreck. Everyone blurred together. I didn't care about anyone or what they were doing.

I get the direct idea he writes for himself with little to no regard for an audience. To an extent that's admirable.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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I had no trouble reading through ROCK N ROLL, though when I saw it in NYC after reading it, I thought it wasn't nearly as interesting as it was on the page.

Conversely, I was riveted during THE COAST OF UTOPIA (saw a marathon day of all three plays) - and don't enjoy reading it as much (I'm constantly going back to cheat and remind myself of characters - there are so many!) Also, I saw UTOPIA prior to reading it.

<---- You can see the crazy in her eyes. ;-)
Mattbrain
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I saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead last year and spent the first act wondering what the hell they were talking about.
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The only play of his I tried to read was Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern and I was utterly bored about 20 pages into it. It just felt so pretentious to me. Then after countless university theatre classes that performed the dueling scene, I vowed never to have anything to do with it again.

To this day, my parents still curse the night they decided to see Arcadia in London. They absolutely HATED it. For a fun hour of entertainment, I'll ask them about it. It's hysterical to see how riled up they get about that play.
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Weez
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Stoppard is definitely tricky. But I'll take him over Mamet any day. The only way I can read a Mamet play is out loud, which makes me look like some kind of fool when other people are within hearing distance.
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I don't think Stoppard writes without any regard for his audience. He has said (around the Broadway opening of Invention of Love) that he doesn't want his plays to be incomprehensible to someone without his knowledge, that plays should only be "a better way to spend an evening than staying home and watching whatever is on television." He wants to entertain his audiences, above all.

Unfortunately, I don't think Stoppard is the best judge of what is "difficult" for an audience. Hence, ROCK 'N' ROLL, which, for someone without a knowledge of the Russian takeover of Czechoslovakia, is almost indecipherable.

(ironically, the only Stoppard play I have ever finished is THE COAST OF UTOPIA. But I found that, once you knew which character was which, it was pretty smooth sailing)
"Y'know, I think Bertolt Brecht was rolling in his grave."
-Nellie McKay on the 2006 Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera, in which she played Polly Peachum
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I played Melchior in Tom Stoppard's On the Razzle and the main problem the cast (myself definatly included) had was understanding the jokes, though we did eventually bang out a great show