THEATER: Kate Burton Stars in “Hapgood,” Stoppard’s Spy Thriller in Williamstown [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns
What is Hapgood about? Espionage, international intrigue and physics, yes, but at its heart it is a play about a working woman, a single mother, and how she manages the precarious balance between work and family life. It just so happens that this particular woman, Elizabeth Hapgood (Kate Burton), is a high-level officer in Britain’s MI6, so her work is espionage and international intrigue, and Joseph Kerner (Jake Weber), the father of her son Joe (Adam Langdon), is a Soviet physicist who may, or may not, be working both sides of the fence.
When Hapgood opened in London in 1988, starring Felicity Kendal and former WTF Artistic Director Roger Rees, it was a flop by Stoppardian standards. After a significant re-write, a Broadway staging in 1994 starring Stockard Channing met with more success, and I assume it is that version the WTF is using here, but it is still not Stoppard’s best work. The playwright strives to spoof the spy thriller genre, but gets so bogged down in physics metaphors, which then have to be ploddingly explained to the audience in long-winded speeches to which close attention must be paid, especially since in this production Weber delivers them in a thick Russian accent.