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Rock of Ages

A new play retells Czech history filtered through rock songs of the times

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll, which makes its Chicago debut in May, melds the Velvet Revolution with the Velvet Underground in a retelling of Czech history filtered through Zappa, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. For those in need of a refresher, we plot the sounds of the times.

1968

In the Prague Spring, Russia invades Czechoslovakia, crushing a budding reformist government and bringing the country back under strict Communist rule.

After being kicked out of Pink Floyd for voracious drug use, Syd Barrett begins laying down tracks for a solo album, including “Golden Hair,” the first song heard in the play.

 

 

1969-70

In 1969, Jan Palech, a student, sets himself on fire as an act of political protest; others follow.

In 1970, the alt-psychedelic Czech band Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) is barred from performing.

 

1979

Czechs are jailed after signing Charter 77, a manifesto criticizing the government for human rights violations, including the imprisonment of PPU.

The only song Stoppard says must be played in its entirety in R’n’R, “Vera,” comes from Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece, The Wall.

 

1990

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mikhail Gorbachev agrees to the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia.

In the play, as in history, the Rolling Stones’ concert Live in Prague illustrates the triumph of rock—and individualism—over repression.

 

 

GO: Rock ’n’ Roll. Previews May 2-10; regular run thru Jun 7. $25-$75. Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn.

 

Photography: (tank) Klikk/istockphoto.com, (Barrett) AP Photo, (Plastic People of the Universe) Globus Music, (Gorbachev) © Chuck Nacke/Alamy, (Jagger) © Pictorial Press LTD/Alamy

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