Silver Spring Stage HapgoodBy Bob Ashby • Feb 27th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Silver Spring Stage
Silver Spring Stage, Silver Spring, MD
Through March 17th
2:15 with one intermission
$20/$18 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed February 25th, 2012
There is a brilliant play that uses quantum physics as a metaphor to illuminate, with great emotional depth, the uncertainties of human relationships. That would be Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn, which richly deserved the Tony Award for Best Play it received following its 2000 opening in New York. Tom Stoppard’s earlier play Hapgood, which opened last weekend at Silver Spring Stage, refers to many of the same concepts in physics as a metaphor for the intricate and confusing world of Cold War-era spycraft, but is weaker on the science and far weaker on the level of human feeling.
Hapgood is Stoppard’s somewhat comic foray into John Le Carre country, with double/triple (perhaps even quintuple) agents; as many as three sets of twins, who might or might not be twins*; lovers who haven’t slept together; moles; a kidnapping that may or may not be a kidnapping; and multiple layers of seeming or real betrayals. Things are never what they seem, unless they are. The plotting maze is as convoluted as the most demanding puzzle addict could ask for, and Stoppard’s verbal cleverness and quick wit are as evident as ever, but the creation of characters about whom one can care suffers.
The play begins with a slow-motion shell game involving briefcases and towels and, for much of the first act, the production is unable to pick up the pace or energy level. Many of the actors – the notable exception being David Dubov as Joseph Kerner, a physicist/spy who is Stoppard’s main vehicle for expounding the play’s scientific metaphor – fall into line deliveries that are simply strings of words, rather than phrases. There is also a tendency among cast members to state feelings rather than to live them, narrowing the emotional range of their characters.
In the lead role of Hapgood, Carol Spring is hampered by these tendencies for much of the show, save some scenes with Dubov and Katie Holden, who plays Jane, her young daughter.** Spring’s performance often feels constrained for the leader of a major intelligence operation, though she adds a bracing spurt of energy to the proceedings when she plays Hapgood’s twin (is she really a twin?) in the second act. It does seem strange however, for twins to have accents so totally at odds with one another.
Ric Andersen as Ridley, Hapgood’s none-too-bright colleague, and Nick Sampson as Blair, her not-always-quite-on-top-of-things supervisor, give solid performances. Aly Ettman brings a low-key consistency to the smaller role of as Maggs, Hapgood’s secretary. More than anyone else in the production, Dubov’s Kerner combines intellect and feeling into a complete character.
There is no set, as such. Rather, various set dressing pieces are moved into position as a swimming pool dressing area, Hapgood’s office, a children’s football field, etc. The production’s eclectic musical soundtrack ably fills in the spaces during the sometimes protracted scene changes. The costumes, credited to the entire company, are a nicely detailed credit to the company.
It can be a good thing to produce lesser plays by major playwrights. There is room in the world of Shakespeare for the occasional production of Timon of Athens or in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertory for The Grand Duke. For Stoppard fans, the chance to see Hapgood is welcome, even if the view is not one of Stoppard at his best.
* The second act appearance of one particular twin, specified in the script (1994 Broadway edition), does not occur in this production, diminishing the effect of one of the many plot twists.
** In the script, Hapgood’s child is a boy, named Joe. It’s understandable that a community theater production would cast a girl in the role, but calling her Jane rather than, for example, Jo or Josephine, muddies a verbal and relational point.
What does the movement of an electron have to do with love, and secrets, and family, and politics? Depending on what mood you’re in, everything and nothing. Or perhaps something indeterminate in-between.
For Tom Stoppard – who as a child fled not only the Nazi occupation of his native Czechoslovakia, but the Japanese takeover of Singapore just three years later – life is a serious game. From the coin-flippers in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to the mathematical skirmishes between Arcadia‘s Tomasina and Septimus, to the Russian, British and American spy-game protagonists you will see tonight, Stoppard’s characters are determined competitors in multiple arenas. They are also able, as the formidable intelligence agent Hapgood does throughout our play, to question the wisdom of their absorption into the games themselves.
The “life” games we all play today have changed since the welcome death of the Cold War – but the urgency and pace of the world (and what we perceive to be at stake) has only heightened. We ourselves are electrons in too many ways. We try and try, but somehow knowing both the exact position and velocity of our lives gets more and more difficult. For instance, watching a 110-minute play (and thank you for doing so!) is now seen by many as a quaint and prolonged anachronism. Strange that just 25 years ago one of the hottest tickets on Broadway was the eight-hour Nicholas Nickleby.
During most of my preparation work for this play, my kitten Tamsin amused herself by inventing games. Chase-the-paper, attack-the-shadow, and the like were as real and absorbing to her as the FA Cup Final. So does that mean that playing the game is the meaningful part? Do we ever stop chasing shadows, be they Russian agents, internal moles, lovers or Heisenberg’s famous electrons? Knowing where “the opposition” is and what it’s doing – or even, as Hapgood decries, who the opposition is at all! – is a game that might be as pointless as R&G‘s never-ending coin-flippers.
But we play nonetheless. And what does it all mean, really? As our Joseph Kerner would say, anything you wish. The experimenter makes the choice – and what you choose to look for, is what you’ll find. Enjoy tonight’s mystery but perhaps solving it is less important than coming along for the ride. Don’t fret the physics, though we think you’ll find the lesson satisfying.
And in time, as the wonderful Neil Finn wrote, “You’ll see that some things travel faster than light – in time you’ll recognize that love is larger than life.”
– Doug Krehbel, Director
Photos by Harvey Levine
- The Russian: Luba Hansen
- Wates: Marcus Gillis
- Ridley: Ric Anderson
- Kerner: David Dubov
- Merryweather: Dylan Knewstub
- Hapgood: Carol Spring
- Blair: Nick Sampson
- Jane: Katie Holden
- Maggs: Aly B. Ettman
- Producer: Natalie McManus
- Director: Doug Krehbel
- Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Rose Mohan
- Casting Assistant: Briana Thibeau
- Set Designer: Andere Tijden
- Master Carpenter: Mike Ricci
- Construction & Painting Assistant: Andrew S. Greenleaf
- Properties & Set Dressing: Rosemary DiPietro
- Lighting Designer: Don Slater
- Sound Designer: Nick Sampson
- Weapons: Brian Dettling, Stage Armament Solutions
- Light and Sound Board Operators: Rob Allen, Patrique Beard, Ed Eggleston, Jeff Kellum, Henry Speaker
- Running Crew: Anna-Lisaa Okoye, Matilda Parker
- Costume Designer: The Company
- Make-up & Hair Design: The Company
- Artistic Liaison: Craig Allen Mummey
- Playbill Cover Design: Craig Allen Mummey
- Subscription Brochure: Craig Allen Mummey
- Hospitality: Kathie Mack
- Opening Night Reception: Richard Ley, Pauline Griller-Mitchell, Natalie McMannus
Disclaimer: Silver Spring Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7697.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.