Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt (Thomasina Coverly) and Greg Matthew Anderson (Septimus Hodge) in Writers Theatre’s ARCADIA. Credit: Michael Brosilow.
Tom Stoppard’s ARCADIA, a timeless comedic romp through past and present – seamlessly held together by Stoppard’s mastery of language and imagery – is not a play to approach lightly. Adorn it with a ‘vision’ and it’ll crumble at your feet. It is a true masterwork of intellectual theater that is on par with the great English literature that inspires its plot. Thankfully Writer’s Theatre has managed to find just the right balance with their interpretation, and director Michael Halberstam has laid a gentle, yet exacting hand over ARCADIA.
The plot is not easy to describe in a small breath of space. Bouncing back and forth in time between an English country estate of the early 19th century and the same property 200 years later, we are introduced to young student Thomasina (Elizabeth Stenholt) and her tutor Septimus Hodge (Greg Matthew Anderson). As their study of Newtonian physics and carnal embrace intertwines with members of the house, we jump forward, meeting modern-day author Hannah Jarvis (Kate Fry) and rival Bernard Nightingale (Scott Parkinson). Nightingale is on the brink of discovery – piecing together a hole in the documented history of the great poet Lord Byron. From there, events relating to one another unfold between the time periods until we find both stories brilliantly occupying the same space at the same time. It’s a feat that can be difficult to pull off visually, but is accomplished with incredible grace and simplicity through Halberstam’s deft staging and the stunning work of the design team – especially Collette Pollard’s time-piece rotunda set.
The talented cast is as witty as they are engaging. Stenholt plays Elizabeth with honest, youthful innocence and determination. Parkinson’s Bernard – a part that could easily lend itself to stodgy rigidity – comes to life with spry physicality. But it was Anderson’s subtle comedic timing and sincere, honest longing that was the highlight of the evening.
Writers’ production is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the mind. Stoppard is not for everyone – particularly if you’re looking to relax into something – but if ‘leaning forward and engaging’ excites you, ARCADIA will not disappoint. It is the quintessential Writers work, and the perfect show to christen the stunning $28 million facility.