By Tom Nissley

In the earliest years of the nineteenth century, an amazing reframing of the stately gardens of English manor homes turned landscapes from classical dioramas into more rustic and natural settings, as if Birnam Forest moved from the wilds of Scotland into the back forty. Among other things, “Arcadia” follows the changing trend as it impacted Sidley Park in Derbyshire, under the guidance of a designer named Richard Noakes. I haven’t figured out whether Noakes is a historical figure, but I have been intrigued by English gardens and equally interested in Connecticut gardens and the placement of trees and streams and even a Chinese bridge so I followed as best I could the idea in Stoppard’s plot that joins the archeology of gardens to the mathematical principles of Fernat and the place of women in education.

If you are at all interested in theatre that challenges the intellect, run, do not walk, to this superb production, directed by James Bundy, the Dean of the Yale School of Drama. Skillfully directed! The timing and placement of characters on stage and for that matter the choices of how those characters will be cast and styled easily demonstrates why direction is such an important factor in when a play “works.” “Arcadia” works very nicely.

Stoppard has developed a sequence of characters in the Coverly family who make use of the same room in the same stately house, opening onto their estate, Sidley Park, several generations apart. So the opening scene from 1809 is followed by another go-round 180 years or so later. Coverlys still inhabit the great estate, but times have changed. The scenes move back and forth from the early period to the latter one. In the latter one there is a lovely exploration of what changes were made to the garden, and what can be determined about the earlier Crowleys and their house guests in 1809 and 1812. By the final scene, in which the moderns have dressed as their ancestors might have for a costume ball, a few characters from each century occupy the same space but not the same awareness.

In the nineteenth century group, Rebekah Brockman (as Thomasina Coverly) and her tutor, Tom Pecinka (as Septimus Hodge), are particularly noteworthy, along with Jonathan Spivey (as Ezra Chater, a poet). Julian Gamble plays the aforementioned Richard Noakes. In the twentieth century clan, you’ll be pleased with Max Gordon Moore (as Valentine Coverly), Annelise Lawson (as Chloe Coverly), and Bradley James Tejeda (as Gus and Augustus Coverly). But your full attention will focus on Rene Augesen (as Hannah Jarvis) and Stephen Barker Turner (as Bernard Nightengale) as they dig, along with Max Gordon Moore (as Valentine Coverly), for the probability of Lord Byron visiting Sidley Park and the mystery of Ezra Chater’s death. Turner is spectacular in his role.

“Arcadia” raises fascinating theories and stuff to look up later. If you follow them all you will have earned one credit towards a degree, and a lot of satisfaction. Kudos to Adrian Martinez Frausto for an excellent set, to Caitlin Smith Rapoport for the lighting design, and Tyler Kieffer and Matthew Suttor for sound and music design, and to Grier Coleman for terrific costumes.

You can pin down tickets and information for this great production at www.yalerep.org.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre
October 12, 2014

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