By Roz Friedman
How will what we do in present times impact people 200 years from now?
Yale Rep is presenting a sparkling rendition of Tom Stoppard's brilliant, challenging work, Arcadia, which will run through October 25. James Bundy's direction of a fine, large cast, an impressively strong musical score by Matthew Suttor and lovely Choreography by Emily Coates, give this 3 hour exploration of a parallel universe, which spans 200 years, great respect. It is better than the original production on Broadway. (Kudos to Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis.) The problem is that it is so chock full of intellectual theories of math and physics, Classicism and Romanticism, plots and subplots, it is, at its best, difficult to follow and completely understand.
Arcadia by definition is “a mountainous region of ancient Greece, traditionally known for the contented pastoral innocence of its people.” Stoppard has set his play of that name on an estate in bucolic Sidley Park, Derbyshire, England. His discussion here of the universe is seen through the use of two groups in alternating scenes in 1809 and in the present; all action takes place on one spare, classic set designed by Adrian Martinez Frausto, lit in soft hues by Caitlin Smith Rapoport. One of the many themes explored is the conversion of the sweeping gardens in the 19th Century. Lady Croom (Felicity Jones) is at odds with her Landscape/Architect Richard Noakes (Julian Gamble), who, in the fashion of the times, wants to turn the property into a Gothic park. His plan is presented in book form, where on Broadway, there was a magnificent mural.
As Arcadia opens, Rebekah Brockman, charming as the intelligent, clearly spoken 13 year old Thomasina Coverly, is receiving a private lesson from Septimus, handsome, personable Tom Peckina. Turns out, Thomasina is a brilliant and prescient math and science student, whose work when examined 200 years later by writer and researcher Hanna Jarvis, depicted with attractive authority by Rene Augesen, and professor Bernard Nightingale, the dynamic Stephen Barker Turner, proves to be well ahead of its time. Amidst the sorting out of Newtonian theories, there is much talk of sex and love. Thomasina's first question to her tutor is, “What is “Carnal Embrace?” He first tells her quite humorously that it has something to do with meat. Then finally, when pressed, explains it explicitly. It seems Mrs. Chater, whom we never see, has been having a fling in the gazebo with Septimus; this angers her husband, Ezra, the very funny Jonathan Spivey. Poet Lord Byron, who also does not appear, figures greatly in both stories.
Early on, Thomasina is discussing the mixing of red jam and rice pudding, which she observes cannot be separated once it is combined. I am still puzzling the answer Septimus gives: “My time must needs run backward and since it will not, we must stir our way onward mixing as we go, disorder out of disorder into disorder until pink is complete, unchanging and unchangeable and well done with it forever. This is known as free-will or self determination.”
Arcadia: At the Yale Rep- spanning the ages. Now through October 25.