Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Arcadia takes place in two time periods1809/1812 and the present day (or maybe more specifically, 1993, when the play was first performed)at the Coverly estate in Derbyshire, England. Events that take place in the past are of interest to academics and students in the present, so there is a lot of interplay, making the play intellectually dense. Main topics that cross back and forth are mathematical theories and romantic poets of the period, most especially Byron. It is a longish play, about 2-¾ hours of fierce concentration, which may be a challenge for some audience members. I believe I would gain a lot from seeing it again.
The cast of second-year students give Arcadia a good go; the acting is quite good across the board, with strong differences in style and manner between the two eras. In a number of past Asolo Conservatory productions I have felt that ages have not been properly defined, but in this play that seems to have improved and the audience can better glean characters' ages in relationship to each other.
In the past sequences, our main couple are Septimus Hodge, tutor, played by Creg Sclavi, and Thomasina Coverly, a mathematically precocious young girl, played by Carla Corvo, who is quite believable as a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old. Both seem to age a bit in second act scenes, which does help us follow the action. Other important characters stuck in the past include Ezra Chater, a second-rate poet played by Marc Bitler, who captures the low level fop and cuckolded husband in his body language, and Lady Croom, Thomasina's mother, played by Alex Pelletier, who seems just a tiny bit young for the part, even though having married young, she might be in her early 30s during the early scenes. Her brother Captain Brice is played by Michael Judah with proper nautical bearing. Family retainer Jellaby, played by Jacob Sefcak, and Gardner Richard Noakes, played by Joe Ferrarelli, wander in and out with little import, but with proper 19th century bearing.
The present is inhabited by Bernard Nightingale, played by Jonathan Grunert, who wants to work with Hannah Jarvis, played by Amber McNew, author of a book about Lord Byron who dodges Bernard's amorous interests. Grunert conveys the hollow ego of an academic. Three siblings, children of the modern day Lady Croome, also figure: Valentine Coverly, played by Michael Judah; Chloe Coverly, played by Jillian Cicalese; and Augustus Coverly, played by Brian Ritchie.
This production proceeds at a steadily rapid pace, good for holding down the running time, not so wonderful for trying to grasp complex relationships, especially across two centuries. Clarity is far from ideal, and I am unclear whether this is the fault of guest director James Dean Palmer or author Tom Stoppard. Scenic design by Jeffrey Weber is lovely and serves both the past and present almost equally well. Costumes by Sofia Gonzalez are quite lavish for the historical period and well imagined for the present. When past and present collide on each other, the effect is properly dizzying. Patricia DeLorey gets some quite decent English accents from her cast, but voices projecting into the Cook Theatre are hit and miss, adding another challenge to understanding this complex, wordy play. Movement director Eliza Ladd's work with the actors could be tightened up, as physical interactions between a couple of characters (one slap, a brief fight) were not as crisp as they should have been on opening night.
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training's Arcadia, through November 18, 2018, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For more information visit www.asolorep.org/conservatory or call the box office at 941-351-8000.
Cast (in order of appearance):