Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is filled with intellectual intrigue, suspense, philosophical debate, clever wordplay, and entertaining diatribes. Invisible City Theatre Company presented an almost impeccable revival of this gem at Manhattan Theatre Source, with a solid cast and strong creative team.
Arcadia follows two timelines at the house Arcadia -- the past (1807) and the present (2004). In the past, Septimus Hodge (Adam Devine) tutors the soon-to-be-apparent mathematical genius, Thomasina Coverly (Christine Albright) amidst controversy. Septimus has been sleeping with mediocre poet Eztra Chater (Blake White)’s wife and is challenged to a duel, which he talks his way out of wittily. As the past proceeds, there is much entanglement and many affairs between the various characters.
In the present, Bernard Nightingale (David Ian Lee) believes he has found a startling revelation about Lord Byron. He comes to Arcadia nearly two centuries after the past scenes and implores fellow esteemed literature savant, Hannah Jarvis (Rebecca Miller) to aid him in his quest. Some entanglement ensues here as well -- Bernard has affairs with the mother and daughter of the modern Coverly family. Also, Hannah begins to have romantic feelings for Valentine Coverly (Avery Clark).
As the play continues and past and present interplay, many discoveries and parallels ensue. Valentine discovers Thomasina’s doodlings about iterated equations of fractals (where a formula is fed into itself billions of times to approximate an actual shape of a real object, as opposed to perfect, Euclidean geometry) and some proposed problems with Newton’s laws. The truth about the hermit Hannah has been researching and Byron’s whereabouts are eventually revealed, too.
In Arcadia Stoppard has created a mystery of history. It is not only fascinating to watch and filled with great truths that make one ponder for hours afterwards, it is also very funny. Stoppard has a unique gift for dealing with profound, over-reaching topics while coating them in witticisms and amusing banter. His knack for assembling balanced parallels on stage remains unparalleled.
A sign of a truly good ensemble is when there is no reason to highlight any of the cast, as is the case here. The entire cast was wonderful, parsing Stoppard’s script fluidly and naturally -- with realistic portrayals never missing a beat or nuance. There was not a single weak link or missed moment.
Some of this should obviously be attributed to the director, David Epstein. His direction enabled this enchanting ensemble to reach such great heights. The pacing and energy was always vibrant; the staging never felt cramped even though the space was quite intimate.
Technically, Michael Bevins’s period costumes were appropriately understated. Ed McNamee’s earth-toned set explored and divided the tiny playing area well. Joe W. Novak’s lighting design illustrated the different time periods aptly by making the modern sections brighter and the older sections dimmer.
Overall, this production of Arcadia was a must-see for anyone who had never seen, it as well as for anyone who wished to see it again.. There was not a wrong decision made in producing this ravishing revival of this exquisite and stimulating Stoppard masterpiece.
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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh