Center Stage: ‘Arcadia’ connects the dots
Tom Stoppard’s intellectually dazzling 1993 play “Arcadia” is the current offering being presented by the Theatre Conspiracy.
“Arcadia” concerns the relationship between opposites, past and present, order versus disorder, certainty/uncertainty. Even the title “Arcadia” is not random, for according to the dictionary ..Arcadia a city in S.W. California, town in N.W. Louisiana, a mountainous region of ancient Greece, traditionally known for the Contented, Pastoral Innocence of its people.
The people in Stoppard’s “Arcadia” are anything but contented, pastoral or innocent; this theme of contradiction resonates throughout this brilliantly written play. Critics have praised this play as one of the finest modern plays to come from the pen of one of the most significant of present day contemporary playwrights.
Though this play finds Stoppard at his most opulently wordy, it is far from being “hot air.” What it is, is a telling tale of two centuries in pseudo pastoral England, full of pretentious innocence, driven by unadulterated, panting adultery.
And it’s not just physical passion. This play opens with a question posed by Thomisina (delightfully portrayed by Holly Hagan), a precociously brilliant 13-year-old math and science student in the year 1809, asking her tutor Septimus Hodge (Juan Alejandro); “just what is a carnal embrace?”
But good old carnal lust is only one of the questions and elements that drives these complex people and complex questions that stimulates both these characters as well all the characters in “Arcadia” and even the play itself.
This voracious human need to acquire knowledge, whether carnal, mathematical, botanical, historical or metaphysical, is what drives this challenging play. It is this force to discover what lies underneath, not only the concealing garments, but also what is underneath the clouds of dusty layers of family history.
According to the playwright, it is not the answers or the success in resolving these quests for knowledge, all of that is irrelevant, since full and true knowledge of anything is nigh impossible. It’s the old “just wait a minute and all will be revealed,” just a bit differently (my little add on). This particular theme is beautifully put by one of the characters at the end of the play when she says, “it’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”
In a synopsis I read about the play (when I saw it in the Berkshires one summer): “This play is set in a country house, Sidley Park, in Derbyshire, and follows the lives of people living there in the 1800s and present day. This is a rich play with more questions than answers. It involves philosophy, history, classic literature, and mystical poets like Lord Byron, landscape design, murder speculations, population dynamics, mathematical algorithms and thermodynamics. And everything comes together perfectly. Some of the characters even investigate science that challenges Newton’s theories of physics.”
All in all every theme seems to evolve from the source of love and death, making “Arcadia” thrilling, funny as well as scary. Bottom line: this is a play for folks not needing to be served all the answers in a neat little package, but do desire to interpret and form their opinions as they take them in during or after the play, on the trip home. This is one play where the answers are not as important as the conversations that follow.
The cast and director Bill Taylor are to be commended for undertaking such an intellectually challenging play; a play where when all is said and done one does care about the characters, and this can be attributed to direction and the actors portraying the characters.
If you like connecting the dots between mathematics, philosophy, science, progress, and contemplation on the meaning and connection of past to present, then “Arcadia” is a play for you.
Start your journey by phoning the box office now at (239) 936-3239.
Remind ’em when you phone that Marsha sent you!