“Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard
1901 Ashby Avenue Berkeley, CA
November 30, 2018–January 6, 2019
Directed by Patrick Dooley
Words, words, words…and ideas.
Put on your thinking, listening and historical hats and go see Stoppard’s “Arcadia” now at the Shotgun Players. (The run has been extended too January 27.) The play is set in two different time periods, early Victorian, 1809 and late 20th century, 1992. The eleven actors handle all this very well, although the barrage of words and the multiple ideas and relationships among the players require careful attention. You will be confronted not only with the past and present, but with disorder vs. certainty, Romanticism vs. Classicism, poets and poetry… and for good measure mathematical theorems. “Arcadia” should not however phase a post-modern audience.
Arcadia, the land itself, was a noted pastoral part of ancient Greece. Poets and painters described it as a place of “love, poetry and sometimes politics.” This image, is spoken of in Act I, when landscape architect David Sinaiko (Ricard Noakes) enters, shortly accompanied by Adam Nieman (Captain Brice) and Danielle O’Hare (Lady Croom). The three discuss proposed modifications to the gardens, while Max Forman-Mullin (Septimus Hodge) and Amanda Ramos ( Thomasina), the brilliant young student of Hodge, sketches an imaginary hermit on Noakes’s technical drawing of the garden. Thereafter, there may or may not be a duel.
Forman-Mullan (Hodge) and Amanda Ramos (Thomasina) carry the through line of the play, since lessons concern “carnal knowledge,” poetry, (Lord Byron is, or has been, a house guest!), love, gardens and mathematics. All this will be the several subjects that occupy the characters of 1992 Act Two. Therein, Jessma Evans, (Hannah Jarvis), Aaron Murphy (Bernard Nightingale), and Gabriel Christian (Valentine Coverly) will attempt to prove or disprove the events of Act One. Murphy, as Nightingale, the pretentious academic, steals the show with his bravura and his downfall. Still, the theorems prevail. Thomasina, who in the story does not live to continue her work, is the prevailing math* genius. Past and present join together on the ‘stage in the round,’ characters waltzing to provide a musical/dance finale to a play of words.
Patrick Dooley, director, Brooke Jennings, costume designer and the production team of “Arcadia” are to be congratulated for handling a complex, intriguing production.
*Note on the Math: Shotgun audiences had the pleasure of hearing Professor David Eisenbud, Professor of Mathematics, UC Berkeley, lead a panel discussion of the math of “Arcadia” on December 15, 2018. This event may be repeated. Check it out!
Joanna G. Harris