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a Drama
by Tom Stoppard

COMPANY : Oglethorpe University Theatre Department [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5059

SHOWING : April 13, 2017 - April 16, 2017



On a peaceful country estate in England in 1805, chaos suddenly ensues: the poet Lord Byron is visiting, the gardens are being renovated, the young lady of the house is discovering the future of mathematics and her handsome tutor is sleeping with…well, everyone. Meanwhile, on the same estate 200 years later, a group of scholars attempt to solve the mysteries left over from this fateful time in the estate’s history. Will the few remaining relics from the past unlock the secrets they hope to discover? Or will their own ambitions and obsessions lead them away from discovering the truth? Considered a masterpiece of contemporary theatre, Tom Stoppard’s "Arcadia" is a complex, funny and moving dance of big ideas; physics, mathematics, philosophy, landscape architecture and the unpredictable nature of desire all interweave in this intellectually and emotionally thrilling play.

Director Mira Hirsch
Thomasina Maital Gottfried
Bernard Joseph Johnson
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by playgoer
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Tom Stoppard’s "Arcardia" alternates between the early 19th century and the present day at Sidley Park, an English estate whose gardens are redone in the gothic style during the course of the play. What Jon Nooner’s scenic design shows us is an elegant neoclassical room in the house, walls in sea-foam green, columns and moldings in white, and a beautiful wood floor centered on an inlaid geometrical figure. A long table and six chairs in the Chippendale style (or in an approximation that suits the nomenclature "Chippendale" in the script) fill the center of the room.

In the background, we see a blue-lit cyclorama (lighting designed by Hannah Gibbs) fronted by balustrades of an exterior fence, with two large, glass-paneled doors up center leading outside. Large windows on either side of this and interior doors at left and right provide the perfect symmetry of the neoclassic style. The background shows no indication of the formal English garden that exists at the start of the play or of the gothic garden-in-progress that exists at the end. Instead, we have a picture book with fold-out panels that represent the "before" and "after" condition of the garden, although the book is not clearly visible from the audience.

The period feel is reinforced by Katy Munroe’s costumes in the Empire style, both for the 19th century characters and for the modern-day characters who dress up for a costume ball. The costumes impress most initially, with the looks in the final scene sometimes seeming a bit off (short stockings for Augustus; a garish jacket for Bernard).

The plot tells its story from both the 19th century angle (the truth) and from the modern day (suppositions, some of which prove to be spectacularly wrong). It’s a dense script, encompassing mathematics, literature, and Byronic history. It’s also long, at nearly three hours, including intermission. But it’s an absorbing ride, punctuated by gunshots at scene starts in Ebonee Johnson’s sound design.

The show is particularly well-acted, with director Mira Hirsch obviously having drilled the actors in projection, English accents, and character. Maital Gottfried is sweetly diminutive as mathematical prodigy Thomasina, more believable as a 13-year-old at the start than as a nearly 17-year-old at the end (which could have been remedied somewhat by costuming and hairstyle). Karl Dickey is assured and forceful as her tutor Septimus, but appears 20 years beyond his supposed age of 22 at the start, which causes a significant problem at the play’s end, when student and tutor share kisses and a waltz. In the modern day, Katherine Carey is humorously no-nonsense as Hannah, while Joseph Johnson is a dynamic force of nature as Bernard, nailing the character of a narcissistic scholar.

The more minor roles are also well-filled. Meredith Myers is elegant and aristocratic as Lady Croom, and Alex Oakley as Chater and Tucker Hammonds as Brice give assured performances, although all are far younger than their characters. Kevin Dew has little to do as servant Jellaby, but does it well, and Ethan Weathersbee, as architect Mr. Noakes, puts a comic spin on his character (although being too young for the role). In the modern-day segments, Grace Dent is confident as Chloe (although I found her sometimes difficult to understand) and John Carter gives a smooth, engaging performance as scientist Valentine. Luke Evans does well as mute character Gus in the modern-day scenes, but is less successful in the extraneous 19th century role of Augustus.

Direction, acting, and technical elements combine to make "Arcadia" a mostly successful production. It’s only the ending that fails to enchant, with the fates of Thomasina and Septimus not foreshadowed enough, due to a lack of sexual chemistry. The dancing that concludes the show is showy and fluid (in the 19th century) and clumsy and awkward (in the modern day), and it is the contradictory mixture of fluidity and awkwardness that doesn’t work in the final moments of the show. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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