The Hard Problem
Upper W Side
80

The Hard Problem NYC Reviews and Tickets

80%
(111 Reviews)
Positive
88%
Mixed
10%
Negative
2%
Members say
Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting

About the Show

LCT presents Tom Stoppard's first new play in ten years, a witty and dramatic exploration of the "hard problem" that is human consciousness. Directed by Tony winner Jack O'Brien ("The Coast of Utopia.")

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Member Reviews (111)

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72
Disappointing, Indulgent, Overrated, Clever

See it if If you like some good acting or a story that only touches the surface.

Don't see it if If you want a deep, meaningful production. Characters did not move me in this directed play.

90
Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Challenging, Dialectic

See it if you want a gripping play about altruism vs egoism, religion vs science, technology vs humanity, philosophy vs theory, & seeking forgiveness.

Don't see it if you're turned off by gratuitous (albeit brief) nudity; you don't like Stoppard's philosophical polemics & focus on intellect over emotion.

Critic Reviews (31)

November 19th, 2018

"As the characters argue and argue and argue about the essence of human behavior, the stakes seldom feel compellingly high. Abstractly, this play may be taking on the biggest concepts imaginable, yet on stage it feels disappointingly small...It is hard to avoid the impression that 'The Hard Problem' — which often feels like the work of a precocious young neophyte rather than an old master — has yet to solve itself."
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November 19th, 2018

"The problem with Tom Stoppard’s new play is that it isn’t hard enough...Stoppard’s approach to this question is rudimentary: an intro-level survey of the shades of gray matter, starting with a discussion of the familiar 'prisoner’s dilemma' game-theory problem and then strolling down well-trodden paths about religion, science, altruism and the nature-versus-nurture debate...Although the play is elegantly directed by Jack O’Brien, its ideas and characters are thin."
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November 19th, 2018

"Its ideas are, as ever, rich and varied, while its dramatic scope is relatively modest. And while it may seem paradoxical, I think a sparer production—and one that remained a little less sentimental for a little longer—would have moved me more. O’Brien is gamely feelings-forward in his approach to the play, but he’s making it more treacly than it need be...Still, scene to scene, Stoppard’s writing feels alive and engaging as ever."
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November 19th, 2018

"Stoppard here attempts to be more accessible, at least by his standards, by having his intellectual arguments frequently expressed by attractive young characters...The dialogue is far less plot-driven than rhetorical, the characters engaging in enough stiffly rendered intellectual arguments to fuel a dozen TED Talks...It seems churlish to complain about a play intended to make you think as much as feel...'The Hard Problem' never fully balances that theatrical equation."
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November 21st, 2018

"One of the best things Stoppard’s given us...Stoppard has spun a concise piece of storytelling full of thought-provoking twists...’The Hard Problem’ tells its tale with elegant economy and a fitting regard for the role played by love in the working out of man’s fate...This is the kind of production that exists solely to serve the play, and ‘The Hard Problem’ is more than worthy of being so served.”
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November 20th, 2018

“’The Hard Problem’ does not shy away from addressing a wide range of scientific and philosophical issues...Despite its cerebral and conceptual nature, the play remains firmly focused on Hilary and her personal and professional journey...'The Hard Problem' is soft, simple and sensitive. For those who find Stoppard too bizarre at times, 'The Hard Problem' achieves an ideal balance of intellect and heart...O’Brien provides a well-balanced, handsome and engaging production.”
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November 19th, 2018

"The play raises some of the most profound questions of our existence, yet its emotional temperature never rises above the autumn chill...Stoppard is our most intelligent living playwright, and it is a testament to his brilliance that we see his probing questions in every layer and moment of the play. 'The Hard Problem' fully engages us intellectually, but emotionally, it feels distant and contrived...It helps that the cast delivers convincingly human performances."
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November 20th, 2018

“In the world of Stoppard, post-coital pillow talk can be a debate about human consciousness and whether or not altruism truly exists. After all, nobody said anything about ‘The Hard Problem’ was going to be easy...Clocking in at 100 minutes, ‘The Hard Problem’ may seem a bit overextended at times, but Stoppard's dialogue is sharp and challenging and O'Brien's staging has a crisp energy...In this season of giving, the topic may especially inspire some interesting post-theatre chatter."
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December 5th, 2018

“While Stoppard has provided his usual acres of witty dialogue and arguments that crackle, for once you can catch him rigging the game...’The Hard Problem’ is so packed with contrivances...After a few scenes, it becomes pretty obvious that Stoppard is practicing his own form of game theory, and the rules feel oddly malleable. For this reason, and because the play's argument never really advances...‘The Hard Problem never really catches intellectual or dramatic fire.”
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November 19th, 2018

"Stylistically on the choppy side, 'The Hard Problem' seems to be aiming for, but does not quite reach the perfect blend of intellect and emotions that Stoppard achieved with his masterful 'Arcadia.' Nevertheless, the play's 85 minutes are well spent in parsing one of the great puzzles of all time...Director O'Brien keeps the play's many transitions of time and locale from becoming too confusing through the use of swiftly changing sets carried in by a well-oiled ensemble."
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November 19th, 2018

"The wonderful result of Stoppard’s insisting in 'The Hard Problem' that his audiences think seriously as they watch his play are the simultaneous emotional feelings he elicits in them. He allows no let-up in brain and consciousness awareness but makes certain that humanity accompanies, if not predominates, the effect...Jack O’Brien is at the helm again and does his usual sensitive job."
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November 19th, 2018

"Gorgeous new play...Stoppard has given us a heroine for our times...Under the robust direction of Jack O’Brien, the excellent actors mine their characters’ sensibilities and vulnerabilities for all their poignance and humor...'Miracle' is a word that comes up several times in the text; if Stoppard’s latest play doesn’t argue they occur, in the traditional sense, it leaves you feeling that some progress is inevitable—and that is, at this juncture, a small miracle in itself."
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December 6th, 2018

“Tom Stoppard's ‘The Hard Problem’ is one of those cerebral exercises created to prove a point. The characters are ultimately pawns in the hands of the author. Jack O'Brien's engrossing production doesn't give you time to find answers to the necessary questions about the mind/body dilemma. This is not a play for the uninitiated; it helps if you have a background in the neurological issues being discussed. The play's cool style once again shows the author to be our most intellectual playwright.”
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November 19th, 2018

"Probably intended to be a challenge for theatergoers who already love the mostly brilliant body of work by the now eighty-one year old Stoppard...Just don't expect to be swept away by anything that might be described as turmoil, tension, or twist in the plot in a play that may not really be a very good one...Exactly how well 'The Hard Problem' develops dramatically is in how much theory you can explore and endure before you need real emotions."
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November 20th, 2018

"They’ve made it much clearer and accessible. Do go for the Stoppardian mind and heart journey that only he can deliver...There are miles of ideas in this 100 minute no intermission play...All these ideas revolving around the existence of God...There are layers of psychology, philosophy, science and emotional connection here to thrill the thinking theater goers mind for months of rumination.”
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December 9th, 2018

"With the slamming of the book, 'The Hard Problem' begins to weave and dodge its way through the cerebral pathways of the brain and the blood stream of our collective intellectual abstract flesh...Directed strongly by the precise Jack O’Brien, this sexy slice of intellectualism and combative debate floats high in the realm of smart talk, but gets lost somewhere in the overall arch of meaning and underlying connection."
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November 20th, 2018

“Despite the amount of science and philosophy crammed into a short play, the tone remains light and bracing, thanks to the quality of...O’Brien’s production, buoyed by a roster of excellent performances...Its characters may sometimes come close to being mere positions in a debate, but the overall shape of the project is nonetheless beautiful."
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November 30th, 2018

“’The Hard Problem’ launches into the mind-body debate from the get-go...O’Brien directs briskly, using a fine and large cast...O’Brien also employs a team of award-winning designers...These appeals to eye and ear seem intended to compensate for the strain on our brains...My trick for most appreciating 'The Hard Problem’...is to read the script. ‘The Hard Problem,' as in many of Stoppard’s plays, works as well as dramatic literature as it does as a theatrical event.”
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C
November 19th, 2018

"But Hilary's hardest problem is forgiving herself (and perhaps everyone involved) for giving up her daughter, Catherine, for adoption when Hilary was only 15. Did she do the right thing for the right motives? Did her decision have the right outcome? Does praying to God - whatever the reason - have any effect? These may not be questions that scientists, psychologists or even philosophers can fully answer, but they are the ones that matter -- not just to Hilary, but to all of us."
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December 3rd, 2018

“An episodic, fitfully absorbing, brain-teasing…dramedy…'The Hard Problem' illustrates what Stoppard's characters talk about by weaving it into the very fabric of their existence. Unfortunately, big ideas don't necessarily translate into dramatic tension…Stoppard's highbrow palaver can sometimes get a bit dense but, in general, he inserts his ideas into accessible dialogue,..with intriguing…anecdotes…His characters, while superficially life-like, are sufficiently interesting mouthpieces.”
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November 19th, 2018

"The ongoing debates over altruism vs. selfishness, coincidence vs. miracle, brain vs. mind take precedence over plot...O’Brien’s direction is a bit too busy for my taste. While the play never deeply engaged me, it did hold my interest. I was surprised that Ms. Clemens got a solo bow during the curtain call as her performance, while quite competent, did not reach star level."
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November 19th, 2018

"Stoppard wows us with his talk of 'neurobiology crossovers' and 'quantum-level brain processes,' but when it comes to developing his characters, he doesn’t bother being subtle or even remotely smart. American equals crass, and British equals…well, those characters are nicer and brighter but sometimes much gooier...What truly pumps Stoppard’s story is the heart he’s grown that’s as big and corny as old Paramount Pictures."
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November 30th, 2018

“A barrage of ideas related to human existence raised by Stoppard is given voice by an excellent cast...Clemens is giving a performance that is among the season’s finest in the role of Hilary...What’s ultimately impressive is that despite all the talk about trying to scientifically understand the brain, a key aspect of the play comes down to human emotions and trying to do the right thing. Stoppard’s vision in this respect is movingly expressed by Hilary and her approach to life.”
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November 19th, 2018

"While the play remains intellectually engaging throughout, these plot threads do not weave a recognizable garment. Instead, there is plenty of lively discourse about the nature of human behavior and belief, with Mr. Stoppard’s own thesis concealed by the contradicting victories of his characters’ opposing arguments. The hard problem is too hard to solve in one play, but the feast of ideas presented here is nonetheless nourishing.”
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November 19th, 2018

"The characters feel like conveniently placed echo-chambers and spokespeople, rather than people believably living within these big ideas and their effects. The play more plausibly illustrates the corporatization of neuroscience, and where that is leading us...Still, Stoppard studs the play’s odd dramatic cul-de-sacs and theoretical density with jokes and zinging put-downs—and at the end supplies a genuine emotional punch."
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November 20th, 2018

“The play fails to explore its titular problem in any depth, let alone suggest a solution...Arguments about the existence of God further contribute to the muddle here, as does a sub-plot about the 2007-8 financial crisis...’The Hard Problem’'s thin characterization becomes all too apparent...In Jack O’Brien’s flimsy staging, framed by cartoonish backdrops of London and Venice, these brainiacs all end up seeming like mindless ciphers.”
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December 14th, 2018

"There are still moments of humor in Jack O’Brien’s fascinating production of this twisty play—a brainiac’s sumptuous meal laid out for the layman...In Stoppard’s hands, the characters’ motives are always clear even when the intellectual demands on the audience are at their fiercest...As a playwright of ideas, Stoppard has no peer, and 'The Hard Problem,' while it requires listening closely, is not hard to watch."
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December 8th, 2018

"The cast is admirable, and it's a testament to their talent that 'The Hard Problem' is never boring. But it is absent of drama, the characters just an excuse for their intellectual positions. It feels a little like an earnestly-written essay dressed up in the conventions of a play."
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November 19th, 2018

"If you want to exercise your body, head to the gym. To exercise your brain, I’d suggest 'The Hard Problem'...While far from his best, this is a fascinating piece of theater from the cerebral Stoppard, one that requires rapt attention at every turn as we’re asked to process a litany of complex scientific concepts...It's enough to make your head swim, but mercifully Stoppard puts a human face on all this."
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M
December 5th, 2018

“This erudite play poses theological & ethical points of view without providing definitive resolutions for enigmatic ideologies. The ‘hard problems’ are multi-pronged and the list is long...A lot of the plot does not compute...So too are many of the lofty queries Stoppard puts forth with rapid fire. Regardless, Stoppard's erudite writing does make its way into the cerebellum some of the time with intrigue & clarity...The overriding essence is a healthy pastiche of skepticism & faith.”
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F
November 20th, 2018

"While O’Brien’s impressionistic staging could walk any audience member down from the high cliffs of academic unrest, it’s clear that foregrounding Hilary’s fight to find her lost daughter was a conscious choice...Placing Hilary’s bleeding heart (acted with excellence throughout this show by Clemens) in front of an audience otherwise lost in the brambles of neuroscientific debate is a choice that has paid off well....This is an exhausting play."
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