ENTER THE ENCHANTING WORLD OF "ARCADIA"


By Bonnie Goldberg

Playwright Tom Stoppard proves his intelligence and wit in every word of his challenging and involving masterwork "Arcadia" that probes such diverse topics as chaos and order, jam in rice pudding, mathematical equations, the meanings of "carnal embraces," literary criticism and the history of gardens, among many others. Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven will be shining an orb of enlightenment on "Arcadia" until Saturday, October 25.

The more erudite you are and well learned, the better to catch all the myriad historical and literary references. Even if you miss a goodly portion of them, you will still be enchanted by the banter in this multi-layered tale set in two different centuries hundreds of years apart, 1809 and circa 2009.

Stoppard's intriguing story begins with a pert and precocious teenager Thomasina, delightfully captured by Rebekah Brockman, querying her tutor Septimus, an engaging Tom Pecinka, about "what is carnal embrace?" His explanation, that skirts the truth, sets off an exploration of knowledge that reveals proofs for theorems, mathematical laws, lessons in folly and all the gossip that keeps Sidley Park igniting on all sixteen cylinders.

An illusive Lord Byron is never seen but his poetic influence is felt. The scholarly discourse surrounding Byron and what took place in 1809 consumes the minds of the educated lot who people Sidley Park two centuries later. Who is the hermit? Was a duel fought? What do the designs of the garden portend? What do Thomasina's equations mean involving the behavior of numbers? A reverence for learning is evident as well as a healthy spirit of discovery.

In the current times, a scholar Bernard Nightingale, portrayed by a tempest swirling Stephen Barker Turner, has invaded Sidley Park to gather research on a talk he is giving for the Lord Byron Society. His theories and allegations stir up a hornet's nest of controversy among the residents, Hannah (Rene Augesen), Chloe (Annelise Lawson), Valentine (Max Gordon Moore) and Gus (Bradley James Tejeda).

Thomasina's world is also peopled by Ezra (Jonathan Spivey), Noakes (Julian Gamble), Lady Croom (Felicity Jones) and Captain Brice (Graham Rowat). Across the boards and across the centuries, the cast is uniformly excellent. James Bundy directs this three-hour entertainment with a skilled hand, one that waltzes in perfect step.

For tickets ($20-98), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are at the University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Follow the trail of clues from the past that confuse, elude and astonish the current generation. Be assured that no tortoises were harmed in the making of "Arcadia."

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