Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Set in Sidley Park, Derbyshire, at the stately home of the Coverlys, Arcadia begins in 1809 and travels between the early nineteenth century and the late twentieth century. At the start of the play, a brilliant and precocious 13-year-old Thomasina Coverly (Caitlin Cohn) attempts to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. This is an impressive undertaking as it is considered among the most notable theorems in the history of mathematics. Prior to its proof in 1994, it was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "most difficult mathematical problem." Thomasina is distracted from her studies by her youthful curiosity regarding the supposed sexual dalliances between her dashing tutor Septimus Hodge (Ryan Zachary Ward) and various older women on the grounds of the estate. She is eager to find out more about the "carnal embrace" of which she has read in her Latin translationsparticularly as the frightfully high-strung matriarch of manor Lady Croom (Margery Lowe) is the latest addition to the list of Septimus' paramours.
In the twentieth century, writer Hannah Jarvis (Vanessa Morosco) and literary professor Bernard Nightingale (Peter Simon Hilton) converge on the house. Jarvis is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds, and Nightingale is researching a vague chapter in the life of the poet Lord Byron, who was a classmate of Septimus and sometime guest at the estate. Though the two are at odds with one another, together with the help of Valentine Coverly, who is a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the mystery of exactly what took place in Sidley Park during Thomasina's time is gradually revealed.
Clocking in a three hours and 15 minutes, Arcadia may not be for those theatregoers with short attention spans, but it is worth every minute. It's clear that Stoppard has a love of language. His use of words is at times lush and poetic, and at others crisp and analytic. His ability to paint characters by assigning a relationship to their usage of words is mesmerizing. Even in the most academic of speeches, the audience is never lost or excluded. Whether talking of philosophical abstracts or scientific constructs, the audience must never lose their connection to the characters for the sake of the author appearing cerebral. Yes, Stoppard perhaps does indulge himself a bit in the length of this play, but there is no fat to be trimmed from Arcadia. This well-directed production is both sleek and elegant, and memorable long after the curtain has come down.
Scenic design provides one set, somehow austere and romantic at the same time. Lighting design casts a spill of shadowed foliage through the windows onto the broad expanse of table that is center stage. Pacing is brisk, with just the slightest of lags in act one, scene two. Costuming is lovely in the period section of the show. I particularly enjoyed the way in which it was used to help transform trim and handsome actor Cliff Burgess into an awkward and doughy Ezra Chater. To give credit where credit is due, however, the real transformation is due to the facile talents of the actor himself. In productions such as West Side Story and Casa Valentina, Burgess has shown great range.
A young Caitlin Cohn shows remarkable maturity and passion in her acting as Thomasina. Her act one, scene three monologue is one of the highlights of the evening. Peter Simon Hilton is perfect as the pompous Bernard Nightingale. Arielle Fishman is as likable as Chloe Coverly as Vanessa Morosco is prickly as Hanna Jarvis. From start to finish, this is a well-balanced cast of seasoned actors ably paying tribute to work of Tom Stoppard.
Arcadia premiered at London's National Theatre on April 13, 1993, and was first staged in the United States in March of 1995 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Both productions were directed by Trevor Nunn, but featured entirely different casts. The original American cast included Lisa Banes, Blair Brown, Billy Crudup, Victor Garber, Paul Giamatti, and Robert Sean Leonard.
Palm Beach Dramaworks' Acadia, through April 30, 2017, at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, 201 Clematis Street. Evenings Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, and select Sundays at 7pm; matinees Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2pm. Post-performance discussions follow Wednesday matinee and Sunday evening performances. Individual tickets are $66; student tickets are available for $10; tickets for educators are half price with proper ID (other restrictions apply). Group rates for 20 or more and discounted season subscriptions are also available. For ticket information please contact the box office by phone at 561-514-4042, or visit them online at www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.
*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.