Rock'n'Roll - A few comments about the play

The San Jose Stage Company has a great production of the play Rock'n'Roll by Tom Stoppard. This play covers the period from the Prague Spring through the Velvet Revolution. Set in Prague and Cambridge the examines the the tension between an authoritarian regime and culture, in this case Rock and Roll. The play flips many times between Cambridge and Prague and covers over two decades with being disorienting. The minimal set allows for quick changes and the display of location and year on the back drop following a change is probably helpful for those who might not be aware the period and the background.

Max and Eleanor as the intellectual couple in Cambridge are well crafted showing enough of the tension from their marriage and their struggles with old age and cancer while still developing the story of their relationship with daughter Esma and the visiting student Jan. The dynamic between Jan as a visiting student and the older committed Communist Max the university professor is a point which is established early in the play and then reappears near the end.

Rock music is a general background and in the particular references to the rock musician Syd Barrett and the Prague rock group Plastic People of the Universe occur throughout the play. Stoddard examines the question of how an authoritarian regime is threaten by a non-political musical group. And how a regime in power will try to co-opt those that it perceives as a threat by offering benefits and recognition only at the cost of a few "small" changes or adjustments. Perhaps changing a song or some other "small" thing.

The tanks which rolled into Prague to crush the reform movement of the Prague Spring are not shown rolling around on stage and thus are more powerfully sinister in the play as the "helpful assistance" from the other socialist countries. By not overplaying the violence and threat of violence it keeps the play from becoming a cliche.

There is much more to this play than I am covering here. Even a couple of days after seeing the play I am still thinking of some of the scenes and their meaning. One interpretation that I would project on the old Communist professor Max is that a great flaw of his was that he was a committed believer and not a doubter. It is difficult to be an authoritarian or an apologist for authoritarians if one is able to consistently question and critically examine all points of an ideology.

I highly recommend this play.

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