"Arcadia" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, February 28, 2011
I've got to say, after my last two exposures to the work of Tom Stoppard, I had some hesitations about seeing this revival of his 1993 Arcadia. Its Broadway debut in 1995 included Billy Crudup, who returns in a new role this time around. Mr. Stoppard's skill for construction is at its height here in a double tale of scholars in the same English estate separated by two centuries. The two-thirds of Coast of Utopia and Rock 'n' Roll were overwhelming in intellectual concepts and history. Stoppard's structure in Arcadia reveals plot points bit by bit, illuminating from one time period to the other and exposing how the foibles of human interaction distort reality.
In 1809, the Coverly's are wealthy, hosting friends and scholars like Lord Byron. 200 years later, scholars are scouring the estate library, still owned by the Coverly's, for evidence that Byron actually was there, and how he figured into the history of the family. Parallels spring immediately as scholars in both eras have achieved some notoriety for severe reviews of works by past and present occupants of the estate. 1809's tutor Septimus Hodge (Tom Riley) has decimated the work of would-be poet Ezra Chater (David Turner) and others. Currently, Bernard Nightingale (Billy Crudup) has made similar short work of with writings of Hannah Jarvis (Lia Williams) and then turns up at the estate to continue his own research on Byron.
The parallels continue as attractions heat up between Nightingale and Jarvis, and Hodge and his employer, Lady Croom (Margaret Colin), followed by the men's dalliances with others. I'd attempt to give more plot, but it only gets more confusing to explain without seeing the play yourself. Read more about it here.
Director David Levaux has assembled a capable, if slightly uneven, cast for this revival. Mr. Crudup and Ms. Colin are the stronger among this cast. Mr. Crudup fully captures the effete British academia of Nightingale without pushing him into stereotype or femininity. Ms. Colin gives us a woman of nobility who, though intelligent, is nowhere near the scholar her daughter might become. Ms. Williams gets a bit lost in Hannah's fury from time to time, but manages to remain aloof without losing sympathy. Raul Esparza as Valentine Coverly captures the accent, but occasionally gets tripped up in the words.
Hildegard Bechtler's simply furnished, white-washed set fills the two time periods simultaneously behind a beautiful Fragonard-esque act curtain. Given the theoretical questions about science and knowledge the play explores, the lack of color, including a white upstage scrim allow focus to remain on the story and subjects. Gregory Gale's period costumes convey household position nicely.
Arcadia is schedule for a limited run through June 19.