At Wednesday night’s performance of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, three quarters into the first act where I was dying of boredom there was a much more important medical emergency. An older gentleman across the aisle had to be taken by stretcher out of the theatre. The house lights went up the curtain came down and we waited until the stricken man had left. I hope he recovers. Unfortunately, that was the most exciting thing to happen at the Ethel Barrymore theatre that evening.
Every season, it seems, we get a dose of intellectual adrenalin in the form of a play usually from across the pond – whether we like it or not. One show becomes the must see snob hit to offset some of the silly but entertaining musicals that also get produced.
Arcadia seems to fit the bill nicely. Sir Tom Stoppard is a well respected, prolific playwright and some consider him to be a genius. He is clever, intelligent and has a wonderful way with words. When you can understand them. He is also a man of many ideas. Ideas that encompass mathematics, science, poetry, Latin, gardening and sex – ad infinitum.
First produced in 1993 Arcadia has returned, not with a vengeance but in a room temperature production directed by the equally talented David Leveaux with a cast that includes Billy Crudup, Raul Esparza, Noah Robbins, Grace Gummer, Margaret Colin and their fellow British actors: Bel Powley, Tom Riley and Lia Williams. And a turtle named Lightning.
Not all are first rate in this play that spans centuries set in the same cold and stark great room at an English country estate Sidley Park designed by Hildegard Bechtler. Where writer Hannah Jarvis (Lia Williams) is investigating a hermit that once lived on the property and Bernard Nightingale (Billy Crudup) an historian is investigating what happened to Byron and a duel way back then with the help of Valentine (Raul Esparza) a specialist in mathematics. They swap theories that are more lecture than dramatic and very slowly bridge the gap with the past.
The past being the precocious thirteen year old Thomasina Coverly (Bel Powley whose high pitched voice makes many lines inaudible) a math whiz kid on the cusp of sexual awakening with her handsome, rakish tutor Septimus Hodge (Tom Riley) who has had sex with the wife of Ezra Chater (David Turner) in the Gazebo.
Noah Robbins straddles both eras as the strange and mostly silent Gus Coverly and the strange and talkative Augustus Coverly – sharing that honor with the aforementioned turtle.
It is only the discussions of sex that awaken the audience from their stupor induced by the long lectures that permeate the play and the delightful performances of Billy Crudup as the modern day know it all ego maniac who is so very much impressed with himself and Mr. Riley as the randy tutor that make the evening tolerable. www.ArcadiaBroadway.com Photo: Carol Rosegg
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