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Arcadia
Adobe Theater

Also see Paul's review of Say You Love Satan

Arcadia
Julian Singer-Corbin, Rick Wiles and
Ashley Weingardt

On Sunday, the American Theatre Wing will bestow the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play to either a story set in 1890s London (The Importance of Being Earnest ), 14th century Italy (The Merchant of Venice ), 1980s New York (The Normal Heart ), or the English countryside of both 1809 and the present (Arcadia). Fortunately, Albuquerque residents can experience Tom Stoppard's Arcadia without leaving home, thanks to the efforts of director Matthew Naegeli and The Adobe Theater.

In his Director's Note, Naegeli writes, "I'm frequently asked, 'So what's this play you're working on about?' and I have a difficult time answering. 'Well, it's English ... set in a house in the country in 1809 ... and in the present. It's about Romantic literature and landscaping ... have you heard of Lord Byron? Well, it's about iterated algorithms and the heat-death of the universe.' The reactions are usually confused."

Indeed, British playwright Tom Stoppard's 1993 work depicts the lives of two separate groups of people who happen to inhabit the same country house—in 1809 and the present. Though the centuries and relationships have changed, both sets of individuals grapple with academic and philosophical puzzles. While attempts at summary may catalyze confusion, the adept actors at The Adobe Theater have each crafted performances that support the animation of Stoppard's highly intellectual work.

Though the characters are decidedly separated by two hundred years, the cast of twelve works as an ensemble in which there are no weak links. The 1809 inhabitants are portrayed Ashley Weingardt, Julian Singer-Corbin, Rick Wiles, Brady Gear, Colin Morgan, David E. Helgesen and Johanna Sturdy. As tutor Septimus Hodge, Singer-Corbin delivers a performance that is both controlled and thoughtful. He speaks each of Stoppard's words as if he has deliberated over them himself prior to each utterance. As his pupil Thomasina, UNM Theatre and Dance major Ashley Weingardt curiously uncovers the mysteries of algebra and romance gradually over the progression of each of her four scenes. Because the play also spans the course of three years, Weingardt uses this opportunity for subtle character development as we watch Thomasina age from a precocious young teenager to the age of eligibility in nineteenth century England. Together, the two forge a relationship that continuously forces audiences to imagine what might come next for these characters.

The present-day cast is comprised of Colleen McClure, Christopher Chase, Nicole Dozier, Evan Cochnar and Gray Adams. The tone set by these actors is decidedly more fluid and casual, comprised of numerous entrances and exits and a freneticism not seen in 1809. Some of the strongest work in the production is done by Christopher Chase and Colleen McClure as academics who enjoy sparring with each other almost as much as discovering new material for their upcoming publications. While Stoppard's dialogue in both settings is daunting because of the sheer volume of it, Christopher Chase's energy propels the dramatic action of the play. His entrances and exits as Professor Bernard Nightingale help to infuse lengthy monologues with intention and action. When other characters seem to ramble, Chase enters with a burst of enthusiasm that provokes those around him to listen, argue, and sometimes even kiss him. Though she is continuously exasperated by his presence, McClure (as Hannah Jarvis) responds thoughtfully to each of his provocations. As Chloe Coverly, seasoned musical theatre performer Nicole Dozier provides comic relief and levity. At no point interested by the important academic work going on around her, she remains preoccupied the belt line of Professor Nightingale.

Though Stoppard's work is dependent on dialogue, director Matthew Naegli has carefully ensured that the performers are not simply standing around talking to each other. Entrances and exits are deliberate, and the intimate space of The Adobe Theater focuses the audience's attention on the placement of people on stage. Occasionally the actors move to the outer edges of the stage, but never cross the invisible barrier offered by the "fourth wall." In Arcadia, Stoppard specifies that the set should be the same living room, with a table at the center and props that remain fixed in both 1809 and the present day. Thus, throughout the seven scenes, laptops mingle alongside quill pens, and books new to 1809 are treated with the respect reserved for relics in "the present." A self-proclaimed fan of Stoppard's text, director Matthew Naegli also designed the set.

Blackout allows for theatrical whispers—the occasional gasp, hushed remarks during scene changes and extended conversations during intermission and after the final curtain. During each scene change of Arcadia at The Adobe Theatre, audience members uttered noises of revelation and understanding. The play answers questions gradually, but patience is required on behalf of the audience. Fortunately, the actors assembled by director Matthew Naegeli are captivating and make the conclusion of the show well worth the three-hour wait.

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard is presented by The Adobe Theater and is directed by Matthew Naegeli. The show runs June 3-June 26th, 2011, at The Adobe Theatre: 9813 4th Street Northwest (two blocks north of Alameda Boulevard). Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets are $14, with discounts for students and seniors. For reservations call 505-898-9222. Visit www.adobetheater.org for more information.


Photo: Ossy Werner

-Michelle Hill

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