note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Art and science, humanity, romance, life and death come together in a 200-year span that Tom Stoppard has cleverly devised in his 1994 Laurence Olivier Award-winning comedy-drama.
Bad Habit Productions’ director, Daniel Morris, has raised the bar higher and taken Stoppard’s timeless play to an exciting level by staging it near the audience, in-the-round (actually, in the rectangle is more accurate).
Although “Arcadia” premiered in London on April 13, 1993, and opened in New York March 1995, it has been revised several times, garnering more awards and nominations.
In a sense, while solving a few 200-year-old mysteries, “Arcadia” explores how human nature doesn’t change, and the eternal argument between art and science rages through the ages. Set in an English country house in Sidley Park, in 1809-1812 and today, two generations and their guests cleverly fuse together, intertwining characters and plot.
In 1809-12, tutor Septimus Hodge teaches bubbly, precocious, pretty teenager Thomasina Coverly, who’s on the brink of sexual awareness and mathematical discoveries, and her younger brother, Augustus Coverly. Besides tending to his tutorial duties, the self-impressed Hodge feeds his libido, carrying on an affair with promiscuous guest, Charity Chater, wife of frivolous writer, Ezra Chater. Secretly, Hodge covets Thomasina’s commanding mother, Lady Croom, who engages in a one-night fling with overnight guest/Hodge’s college friend, Lord Byron. When Lady Croom discover the literary playboy is also dallying with Chater’s wife, she’s outraged and kicks out Byron, the Chaters and her brother, Capt. Brice.
Lady Croom’s garden is being re-designed by landscape architect-gardener Noakes, who insists on including a hermitage, although there’s no hermit on the large estate.
But it’s excellent mysterious fodder for today’s savants. Fast forward to 2011. Pompous, self-impressed university teacher, Bernard Nightingale, is writing a speech on Lord Byron’s involvement with Sidley Park and possibly Chater’s murder, he surmises. Pragmatic author Hannah Jarvis, fiancee of estate descendant Valentine Coverly, a post-graduate mathematical biologist, is also at the manse. Jarvis is investigating the property’s mysterious hermit, based on Noakes’ plans, unaware that 13-year-old Thomasina whimsically superimposed her drawing of an imaginary hermit on the landscape plans.
Centrally located on stage is a table with symbolic props, tying the two generations together: a turtle, books, Thomasina’s quill and Val’s laptop and Kindle. Intrigued with young Thomasina’s theories, Val determines she started with an equation and turned it into a graph, while he starts with the graph and ends with an equation.
Nightingale’s intrigued with why Lord Byron suddenly had to leave England and concludes it’s because he murdered Chater, after having sexual relations with Chater’s wife at Sidley Park.
As one set of characters plants clues then airily exits, the other incorporates them, solving scientific theories, straightening out facts and mysteries. Parallels are subtly drawn. As Thomasina develops a crush on Hodge, 18-year-old Chloe Coverly - who bears a strong resemblance to Thomasina’s bubbly personality and looks - develops a crush on the pompous Nightingale.
And as Hodge wrote an unsigned, unfavorable review of Chater’s books, Nightingale panned Jarvis‘ book on Lord Byron’s lover, Caroline Lamb. Like Hodge, Nightingale pretends he’s Jarvis’ fan, to curry her help.
The final scenes are haunting, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining, shifting seamlessly together, as Hodge waltzes with almost 17-year-old Thomasina and Nightingale with Chloe.
Alycia Sacco as effervescent Thomasina and Rebbekah Vega Romero as her modern counterpart, Chloe, are delightful, bursting with youth, while Greg Nussen as Hodge and John Geoffrion as Nightingale are impressive as slick-talking savants. In dual roles of Thomasina’s younger brother, Augustus, and Chloe’s younger brother, Gus, who can’t speak, Luke Murtha is the link that binds the generations.
David Lutheran adds comic dash as silly Chater, and Sarah Bedard provides sensible balance as Jarvis. The rest of this talented cast adds depth and color to “Arcadia”.
Michael Clark Wonson’s lighting deftly guides us through past and present mood-changing scenes, along with Barbara Crowther’s elegant period and contemporary costumes.
BOX INFO: Two-act dramedy, written by Tom Stoppard, presented by Bad Habit Productions through Aug. 28, at Boston Center for the Arts‘ Calderwood Pavilion, Wimberly Theatre, 527 Washington St., South End, Boston. Performances: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets, $18, online at bostontheatrescene.com, or call 617-933-8600; at the door, $23.