Category: Arcadia (5)
I found it was essentially necessary to have a quick read of the script of Arcadia before seeing the show, which in my opinion was a smart decision. Tom Stoppard’s traditional “language” plays aren’t easy to piece apart, or put all together. I found myself perplexed with this Arcadia puzzle, but once I got into the swing of things, I was able to understand what I read, and I applied it to the visual performance.
I tip my hat first and foremost to the set designer. The stunning colors came off as traditional and antique, a clean and vibrant pleasure to the eye and senses. I enjoyed how they transformed both worlds in [the same] room. The carrying on of Thomasina and Septimus Hodge in the first act, reading papers and studying carnal embrace, was an entirely different world from the historian and the writer who followed. I very much could fall into the transition [between] the two worlds with ease and distinguish one from the other realistically.
Reading a play is an experience all to yourself: your imagination spawns an entire world for the characters, detailed to your satisfaction. Acting in a play personalizes a character, allowing you to make a unique connection with the story. Working on a play, however, can be the most complex, difficult, and sometimes fun out of the three. I managed to become an undercover dramaturg for Arcadia when I was assigned a position on its running crew, merging my time analyzing Tom Stoppard’s puzzling work with the tiring yet satisfying experience of putting up a show.
All theater students at Montclair, regardless of concentration, are required to work a certain number of hours on technical or backstage aspects of a department show. This allows everyone to appreciate and respect how much work goes into a production from all angles. Earlier in the year, I had requested a spot on crew for one of the shows in the Fox Theatre. I had previously been on running crew for a Kasser show, Crazy for You, and my time working on it was stressful, to say the least. To this day, I have nightmares of feathered, sequined showgirls tapping on my brain. When I found out I was ultimately assigned to Arcadia, hesitation would be an understatement.
Not only did I have to read this play by the great Tom Stoppard, genius playwright, [but] I had to once again spend over a hundred hours in Kasser Theater. I’d be dealing with a myriad of props and costumes, not to mention the gigantic set that Kasser could hold. In Kasser, there is no such thing as a bare stage or small production; it’s go big or go home.
Walking into the Alexander Kasser Theater to see Arcadia provided an unexpected sight. Usually the scenery and set is on the stage but still doesn’t transform to a different place. However, when I snuck into my balcony seat, I felt as if I was in a foreign land, like Alice going through the looking glass to Wonderland. Tom Stoppard wrote a language play, and Susan Kerner directed an aesthetically pleasing world for Arcadia to exist in.
The furniture was exquisite. Even my mother, an antique collector would have marveled at the realistic looking period furniture. Then the backdrops and set walls: honestly, it was like Sidley Park live and center, only on display at the Kasser Theater. The walls were a beautiful shade of blue, and the French doors to the garden added the touch of elegance and sophistication that the Crooms would have had in their day. Then for additional creativity and dramatic effect, aside from the very realistic set and furniture, images of nature were flown in and out throughout the performance. The lighting design was phenomenal; it was so well constructed and executed that words could not describe, especially the ending with flames flickering—well, for lack of a better word, that was cool.
First word: funny.
Then, in no particular order: sexy, witty, moving, elegant, touching, poignant, nostalgic, sad, thoughtful, mysterious, literary, scientific…and yes, complicated. But always entertaining. All you have to do is listen carefully.
Two more helpful words: Pay attention! From the opening instant of Tom Stoppard’s play—when the precocious and brilliant Thomasina Coverly looks up from her math textbook, leans across the table, and asks her astonished tutor, Septimus Hodge, an amazingly preposterous question—to the breathtaking choreography of the final scene (which, of course, I dare not reveal) Arcadia will share its many riches.
The action of the play shifts in time, shuttling back and forth from April 1809 to the present day. However, the place remains the same throughout: Sidley Park, a Derbyshire country house in scenic central England.
Two hundred years ago, the occupants were the aristocratic Coverly family along with various relatives, attendants, and houseguests, including the celebrated and notorious Romantic poet Lord Byron.
Today, the modern descendants of the Coverlys are visited at Sidley Park by Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale, two researchers into its secret history with separate motives. Here is the intriguing literary murder story—the mystery at Arcadia’s heart—who did what…who wrote what…and to whom—and how can we the living ever come to know the absolute truth about those who came before us simply by tracking down and reading old letters, lesson primers, and journals?
Science and mathematics are no strangers to the fine arts. In fact, many plays, novels, and poems are based on mathematical, or scientific, language and topics. For example, David Auburn’s play Proof, or Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s poem “Ideal”: “The plane of yourself separates from the plane of spaces between objects, an ordered succession a person apprehends, in order to be reminded.” (Heady!)
And so, reading Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia on my couch one night, I wasn’t surprised to encounter references to mathematics, but I did struggle to locate the math that he had apparently employed. Characters discussed and mentioned theorems, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit them together.
If you google-search “math+Arcadia,” you’ll come across this lecture by Dr. Manil Suri at the University of Maryland:
The good news here is that Dr. Suri’s lecture is earth-shakingly good! If you departed the womb as an English major (like I did), your self-consciously microscopic left brain will be elated by Suri’s multimedia visuals and his ability to convey mathematics verbiage as easily digestable nuggets.