Last year, as I watched Main Street Theater’s production of The Coast of Utopia, I kept thinking: Does anyone outside Houston know about this, how good it is? The Coast of Utopia is Tom Stoppard’s trilogy about the intellectual background of the Russian Revolution, in the style of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. At this play’s center are the writer Alexander Herzen and the anarchist Michael Bakunin, surrounded by about 70 other characters including the writers Pushkin and Turgenev and, in a minor role, Marx himself. Main Street’s space in Rice Village holds about 110 viewers around a very small stage. Simply getting the whole cast on and off , at Stoppard’s always breathless pace, is a wonder of logistics.
Rebecca Greene Udden, the founder and now artistic director of Main Street, has been doing Stoppard since the mid-seventies when, right after she graduated from Rice, she put on Stoppard’s Travesties, which also deals with revolutionary politics, the endurance of art, and Dada. Travesties is focused on Lenin, James Joyce, and Tristan Tzara and is also, of course, an hommage to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
Guy Roberts, as Bakunin, stole the show in Utopia. He is now both star and director of Main Street’s brilliant production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, and he is also the founder of the Prague Shakespeare Theater, which will produce a Main Street production in the Czech Republic next summer.
So, someone outside of Houston will know, finally. And we can infer that in cities everywhere, there is local theater that remains invisible from outside the city limits and is always better than television and summer movies.