through August 8, 2009
Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" is an example of masterful playwrighting, "...perhaps the greatest play of its time," according to Johann Hari's recent review in London's The Independent. Its construction - back and forth between 1809 and 1989, in the same stunning room, handling the same artifacts, carrying forward the brilliant hypotheses that tripped off the tongue of a 13-year-old girl almost a century before -- challenged the dexterity and layered nimbleness of Stoppard's talent. Stoppard won.
Director Sam Rush imbues the baker's dozen cast with a sense of purpose: they know their stuff and how to flaunt it. In a major role as the precocious Thomasina, young Shelby Leshine beguiles. As her tutor, Septimus Hodge, David Mason's shaded performance reveals the dedicated teacher, the opportunistic seducer, and a deft bamboozler. Cate Damon as the starchy historian, Hannah, deftly deflects the pompous Bernard Nightingale (Keith Langsdale, a scene-stealer whose enthusiasm amazes). Paul Melendy (Valentine Coverly) is a likeable smartypants, modulated in 1809, nerdy in 1989.
The timeless beauty of the setting soothes. Jacquelyn Marolt's design borrows its graceful curved walls from the Greek; the open circle mimics the play's circumlocution. Grounding the free-flowing action is a parquet floor of mellow woods, a large ten-sided mahogany table where yesteryear's tutor and pupil pursue learning, and where modern academic sleuths explore what really happened within this English country home.
What a labyrinth of theorems dominate conversations, sometimes fleetingly - chaos, algorithms, physics - as well as philosophical discussions; i.e., English literature, landscaping, love, death. No wonder that of all the perplexed remarks overheard at intermission, this one captured the essence: "I can't keep up: my head is spinning!" The easiest remedy is to stop trying to understand every line. Instead, let the flavors of the play - its moments of lightheartedness, perplexity, glee, repudiation, tolerance, intellectual stimulation, and so much more - lumber not like stone weights but dance like sugar plums in your head. Another solution is to neutralize any confusion by seeing "Arcadia" again.