IN “The Coast of Utopia” Tom Stoppard throws his arms around a subject so big it cannot be contained in a single play. Chekhovian in spirit, and Tolstoyan in scale, it requires three linked plays, more than 70 roles and a fictional time span of more than 30 years to cover the politics, the literature and the tangled personal relationships that animated Russia in the mid-19th century.
The historical allusions fly thick and fast, and the names, in most cases, are less than familiar. Most audience members will vaguely recall that Mikhail Bakunin, the central figure in “Voyage,” which opens Monday at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, was an anarchist. Beyond that, probably, nothing. The novelist Ivan Turgenev requires no introduction, but the Socialist Aleksandr Herzen and the literary critic Vissarion Belinsky do. Belinsky dominates “Shipwreck,” the second part of the trilogy, and Herzen takes center stage in “Salvage,” the third and final installment. If ever a play required a reading list, “The Coast of Utopia” is it. So let’s get started.
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