REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Hard Problem

By Tom Stoppard.

Directed by Charles Newell.

At Court Theatre, Chicago.

The  hard problem of consciousness, which Stoppard defines as having “subjective First Person experiences.”

Major presentation flaw hurts net Tom Stoppard play.

My expectations were high: a new Stoppard play (his first in nine years); an “A” list cast of Chicago Equity actors; and directed by Court Theatre’s artistic director Charles Newell, a veteran of many wonderful Stoppard productions. All the ingredients for a wonderful evening of theatre. But that was not to be. My problem had to do with the vocal presentation of Stoppard’s dense, esoteric dialogue by the cast with the two lead characters particularly guilty of the below flaws.

Since this play uses a British accent (RP?) and the Stoppard script is complex and wordy, extra effort needs to be used to communicate with the audience. But when actors combine speaking much too fast that tends to make words run together with lack of projection (speaking much too soft as to be berely heard) and  speaking even softer at the end of  a sentence (swallowing words or phrases), I found it hard to hear and harder to understand what was being said. (I asked several audience members if they had difficulty hearing much of the spoken word. Three folks stated that they could hardly hear and understand much of the opening scenes that found Charon  Cross, as Hilary, mumbling too softly while speaking too fast and swallowing words. Jurgen Hooper, as Spike was even speaking faster than Cross by not mumbling as much as Cross.

I must state that Chaon Cross and Jurgen Hooper as both marvelous actors who did yeoman work in The Hard Problem but they failed to engage me and many others in the audience early on making the drama a tedious, even baffling show. (I may be the only reviewer to talk about this flaw but several reviewers agreed with me that Cross and Hooper were difficult to hear but few will say so in their reviews.) I feel that readers should know if actors don’t project and speak too fast especially in a complex intellectual piece like The Hard Problem.

So my analysis will be superficial since the play was difficult to comprehend.  Hilary (Cross) is a young psychologist who works at the prestigious Krohl Institute for Brain Science. She believes in God and altruism that gets her to debate with her associate Spike. She ends up fighting the burden of her regrets as her troubling issues in her research cause he problems.  Questions like where does biology end and personhood begin? Is there only matter? What is consciousness? Will the computer someday answer all psychological questions? Hilary’s “hard problem’ put her at odds with her colleagues; she prays for a solution.

This fast-paced 100 minutes sure has some interesting characters deftly played by k\Kate Fry, Emjoy Gavino, Nathan Hosner and Brian McCaskill. The dialogue has wit and intellectual depth and once the entire cast slows down a tad and the leads project stronger  The Hard Problem has a chance to be stage worthy. Unfortunately, at the opening performance, The Hard Problem was too hard to hear and understand. That got me frustrated. One can hope that those vocal problems will be corrected and the play will have a fine run.

Somewhat Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL, call 773-753-4472,, tickets $48 – $68, Wed, & Thur. at 7:30 p, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, running time is 100 minutes without an intermission.