Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Arcrdia"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


by Tom Stoppard
directed by Diego Arciniegas

Thomasina Coverly, aged thirteen, later sixteen … Ellen Adair
Septimus Hodge, her tutor, aged twenty-two, later twenty-five … Lewis Wheeler
Jellaby, a butler … Bill Gardiner
Ezra Chater, a poet … Owen Doyle
Richard Noakes, landscape architect … Gerry Slattery
Lady Croom, Thomasina’s mother, Lady of the House … Caroline Lawton
Captain Brice, Lady Croom’s brother … Bill Mootos
Hannah Jarvis, an author … Susanne Nitter
Chloe Coverly, aged eighteen … Joy Lamberton
Bernard Nightingale, a professor … Nigel Gore
Valentine Coverly, aged twenty-five … Eric Hamel
Gus / Augustus Covery, aged fifteen … Will Ford

Boston’s closing season belonged to Mr. Sondheim; now the new one promises to be claimed in part by Mr. Stoppard, beginning this past June with the Publick Theatre’s production of ARCARDIA, set in a large country house, Sidley Park, in Derbyshire, England and shuttling back and forth between 1809-12 and 1993. The action of the earlier era revolves around the repercussions caused by a guest, Mrs. Chater, being caught offstage in “carnal embrace” in the gazebo, resulting in Mr. Chater, a minor poet, demanding satisfaction and another guest, Lord Byron (also offstage), quitting Sidley Park in disgrace. Running parallel to this theme of sex and literature is the transformation of Sidley Park from an idyllic landscape into an artificial Gothic ruin by a foppish architect, Mr. Noakes, complete with waterfall, fallen pillars and a hermitage. Meanwhile, nearly two centuries later, two academic rivals, Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale, are sifting through Sidley Park’s archives, each bent on particular truths: Hannah, planning a history of the landscape, focuses on a mysterious hermit who lived out his days in said hermitage; Bernard, obsessed with the disappearance of Mr. Chater after 1809, is convinced that the poet fell in a duel with Lord Byron. The fascination of ARCADIA comes from the ironic juxtaposition of Hannah and Bernard’s piece-by-piecing of the evidence with what really happened in 1809-12 --- such are the triumphs and pitfalls of research, especially when filling in the blanks. Mr. Stoppard has his dull moments --- much talk of equations, theories and graphs which I gather has some bearing on the plot but are lost on a C-in-math student like me (a film version would undoubtedly make with the visuals) --- but they are a small price to pay for the pleasure of walking through this crystal palace of thought and light. (To say anymore would be to give away some of the numerous surprises.)

The Publick production was my introduction to this outdoor theatre, tucked in its grove between highway and river, and it proves an ideal setting for ARCADIA, suggesting Sidley Park’s rambling grounds with the characters wandering in and out amongst shadows and trees in their own late-summer night’s dream and director Diego Arciniegas has polished the talk talk talk until it glows (there is little substance, though, beneath). As for the acoustics, there’s doesn’t seem to be any, leaving the actors to declaim without amplification or sounding boards; thus, a good deal of this ARCADIA is near-incomprehensible should you be sitting beyond the first few rows. Those with the greater lung power make the greater impression and those who can add characterization to the volume become the more memorable (not surprisingly, the men come off better than the women): in the minor roles, Owen Doyle makes a wonderfully silly-ass poet and Bill Gardiner a dainty, dignified butler; Bill Mootos offers enough comic-opera flair as Captain Brice to raise hopes that he can be groomed into a dashing leading man (remember dashing leading men?). I might have enjoyed Nigel Gore’s Benedict more had I not encountered his equally scruffy-loveable fellow in Súgán Theatre’s recent THE SANCTUARY LAMP nor does he replace memories of Jim Butterfield’s burly romping through the role for the Arlington Friends of the Drama, two winters ago. I’ve not seen enough of Susanne Nitter in performance to access the range of her palette; what I have seen has been cool, guarded-serene and Touch-Me-Not --- her Hannah is more of the same. Now that a certain actor has quit the Boston scene, Lewis Wheeler has become the next Young Man in town, good-looking and boyish; this year he played a conventional Gentleman Caller in an unconventional GLASS MENAGERIE (Lyric Stage) and was cast against type as the villain in THE MOUSETRAP (Stoneham Theatre); as Septimus, the missing link between Sidley Park's past and the present, Mr. Wheeler continues his MOUSETRAP’s Cockney accent to create a fellow not averse to sleeping his way into high society but the non-acoustics render his glottal stops as near-hiccups from where I was sitting. Ellen Adair is fast blooming since I first saw her last December as PYGMALION’s Eliza Doolittle which netted her an Addison; now she is the young Thomasina, poised between innocence and natural wisdom, and she must cram her young woman’s exuberance into a thirteen-year-old’s frame which makes for a mannered interpretation but soon enchants, anyway. To see Ms. Adair, in Act Two, spin round and round in a liberating prelude to a waltz is to witness a long-stemmed rose unfolding in all its breathtaking promise.

"Arcadia" (30 June - 4 September)
1400 Soldiers Field Road, Brighton, MA 02135
1 (617) 782-5425

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