Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
The play begins at Sidney Park, an inviting estate in Derbyshire, England. It is 1809 and Thomasina Coverly (Rebekah Brockman), a coming-of-age 13 year old, asks her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Tom Pecinka), about carnal embrace. She sits at the end of a long wooden table and behind it designer Adrian Martinez Frausto has placed long French windows. Beyond and outside are hues of blue. He, all of 22 or so, fumbles with his answer. Thomasina is curious and precocious, a girl who thinks in terms of math and theories. Newton is discussed. Septimus must also address Ezra Chater (Jonathan Spivey), who is on the scene. Chater wishes to have a duel with Septimus and this has to do with Lady Chater, whom we never see. Others, too, are introduced during this segment, including Lady Croom (Felicity Jones) who is concerned with the landscape and wishes to modernize.
The scene swiftly moves to the present day. The room and set remain the sameidentical. Hannah Jarvis (Rene Augesen), an attractive writer, wishes to discover more about a certain hermit, since she feels its demise contributed to loss of Romantic Imagination. Bernard Nightingale (Stephen Barker Turner) hopes to research Ezra Chater. As the story evolves, Valentine Coverly (Max Gordon Moore), who is related to Thomasina and is most romantic, adores Hannah. Nightingale, who makes for an unsympathetic and self-involved character, badly wants Hannah for himself.
Back we go to the early nineteenth century as Thomasina advises Septimus that the equations she hopes to compose are more of nature rather than mathematical forms such as circles. The next shift to the twenty-first century finds Hannah reading from and of Thomasina's work and thoughts. Backward and forward and backward in time...
The concluding scene features both time periods. The very fetching Chloe Coverly (Annelise Lawson) is sister to Valentine and these two have a discussion about the universe. He has the idea that prognostications might come to be formulated but she replies that sexual attraction would work against such a philosophy. On and on and on... such live theater cannot be fully explicated; it needs to be experienced. Ultimately, Stoppard's masterful, relevant, ultra-challenging (for all) play concludes with lyrical waltzing featuring four of the characters.
Thomasina is a young person with seeming genius level aptitude. Her relationship with her mentor Septimus could be the stuff of a one act play. Similarly, the rivalry between Hannah (in her pursuit of the hermit) and Bernard, who, as a critic did not react favorably to a recent book written by Hannah, might provide text to stand on its own. Stoppard provides a script which encompasses so much more. During the final scene, when Thomasina and Septimus are a few years older, indicators show that an even more personal relationship might very well be imminent. That remains a question mark. This play meanders but not aimlessly. It probably cannot be understood entirely during one sitting.
Arcadia is an enticement for the creative and inquiring mind. Look at Stoppard's characters who have various agendas and purposes, some more obvious than others. Math, science, and possibilities are in the air; so is sex. Rebekah Brockman, Tom Pecinka, and Rene Augesen are extraordinary, while each of the talented actors in the cast is on the mark and most capable.
Bundy holds it all together and this is no simple task. Arcadia can be vigorously stimulating or frustratingly confusing. Fortunately, Yale Rep's shining presentation is very much the former. Directing, Bundy has a choice in terms of staging. His decision to go simple further enables Stoppard's dialogue the opportunity to flourish. Matthew Suttor's musical compositions are assets, too.
Cut to the chase: eccentric and/or cerebral ponderers will love Arcadia, given the opportunity to witness a playwright of the mind open imaginative windows of thought. If only it were possible to be stationed, say, under the table on stage to silently partake. After all, Gus Coverly (Bradley James Tejeda) never says a word but he is there!
This enduring theater experience lingerslong after a given performance concludes. Stoppard's play catches attention with Thomasina's first question: "Septimus, what is carnal embrace?" Looking for humor? His answer: "Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef." Off and running.
Arcadia continues at the University Theatre, initiating Yale Rep's current season in New Haven, through October 25th, 2014. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol