The title The Coast of Utopia derives from the key motivation of almost all of the characters in this dramatic trilogy—the search for a perfect society. Ironically, utopias, as nonexistent (the word literally means “no place”), can have no coast. Yet this truth is repeatedly denied as Stoppard’s huge cast of revolutionaries and fellow travelers (forty-four actors in seventy roles in the New York production) insist that a new secular Eden lies just beyond the horizon, virtually within sight. The main candidates for that paradise are Russia and, briefly, France. The characters’ travels, from Russia to France, Germany, Switzerland, England, and Italy, meld their personal voyages, their political quests, and the coastal metaphor contained in the title of each part of the trilogy: Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage. The political activists expect a triumphant return home after places of temporary exile, mere jumping off points.
Stoppard’s courage in taking on this massive project is noteworthy. Beyond simple cast size, there is no explicit contemporary relevance to the discussion, and much is firmly anchored in nineteenth century political history, primarily the painful attempts to drag Russia into the modern world. The central characters may be unrecognizable by the nonspecialist, and the issues—the relative merits of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling’s theories of reality—can be...
(The entire section is 575 words.)