LEOPOLDSTADT - Please Don't Tell Me About The Movie Adaptation
Despite my near 60 years as a Communicant Lutheran and avid church-goer (Gasp!), I am not someone given to prayer. However, I am begging the gods (demons?) of Hollywood to PLEASE not make a movie adaptation of Tom Stoppard's latest Broadway insomnia-cure, Leopoldstadt. I applaud Mister Stoppard's longevity and occasional brilliance (Rough Crossing, On the Razzle, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) through a seven decade career.
Leopoldstadt is a confusing five generation rectal thermometer insertion into a Viennese family of scientists, artists, industry captains, thieves, philanderers, and sloths. In other words, your average collection of flawed humanity related by birth. It deals with anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, and . . . you get the proverbial picture.
What it doesn't do is delineate the characters to the point of lucidity. There is no clarity of family tree. No through-line of some youngish boy or girl when the play starts in 1899 and is still with us when it concludes in 1955. There is no anchor.
It is a joyless concoction of bris angst, Christian intermarriage, and, of course, the Holocaust, an event that even to this sanguine cynic will never invoke humor or levity.
But Leopoldstadt is two hours (No intermission) of the relentless pounding of death, destruction, oppression, and despair. There is no relief. No change in pace. No laughter. From a man who gave us the absurdist dark-humored, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, AND the "My Sides Hurt" Rough Crossing, it's a lesson-bereft voyage into a play from which nothing can be taken after everything is given.
To lighten the mood, here is the text from Rough Crossing as Murphy, the luxury liner's purser, attempts to explain the plot of the play-within-the-play, the device which drives the entire show. It's a hilarious explosion from the mind of Stoppard, and a movie just aching to be made.
"Sir Reginald Sackville-Stew, spotting the lucky winner across the crowded ballroom, is immediately smitten with Ilona who reminds him a little of his late wife, for very good reason though he doesn’t know that yet because Ilona already has a mother as far as she’s aware, and being unmarried and a bit of a wallflower until Justin Deverell takes the pins out of her hair but that’s getting ahead of the story, she naturally brings mother along on the second ticket, and Sir Reginal decides to join the cruise incognito . . . calling himself Reggie Robinsod, because he wants to be sure that if Ilona returns his feelings on some moonlit deck it won’t be because he owns the deck, all clear so far? Of course, it’s all going to come out with the ear-rings which Sir Reginald gave his wife – one of which went missing soon afterwards, about the same time as the Sackville-Stew baby was kidnapped, say no more for the moment, and the other of which was stolen quite recently by guess who, and given to Ilona during a duet on the poop deck; because when Reggie Robinsod recognizes the ear-ring, Justin realizes that Reggie must be Sackville-Stew, because that’s who he’s stolen it from, though in fact Reggie has recognized the matching one which has been in Mother’s possession for all those years – which is why Mother realizes suddenly whose baby she’d stolen, everybody happy? Mind you, all this is just the sauce for the meat of the matter, which is that owing to the slump, Reg has leased out one of the sister ships to what he doesn’t realize is a gang of white slave traders supplying girls to the North African market. Unfortunately, there has been a mix-up in the paper work, and the Emu is at this moment full of French tarts on a round-the-world cruise while the Dodo is tied up in Casablanca."
Someone make Rough Crossing into a film, but please do not attempt the gun-in-your-mouth dreck that is Leopoldstadt.