“Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard at Seattle Public Theatre

2.SPT_ARCADIA_Marston_Mar_PHOTO_Paul Bestock copy

Trevor Young Marston and Izabel Mar in Arcadia
Photo by Paul Bestock

Considered by many to be one of the finest, if not the finest play of the last 20 years, Arcadia is witty, wordy, erudite, clever, carnal, intellectual, funny, and sometimes baffling. It combines human lust with obtuse scholarship, and when one of the characters mentions the “actions of bodies in heat” we know it’s not only physics that he’s talking about.

This production, smartly directed by Kelly Kitchens, and played out on Craig Wollam’s marvelous set, captures the play’s philosophical ruminations as well as its humor. One set serves the play’s two time periods—1809-1812 and the present day. As a salon in an English country estate, it’s an early 19th C. classroom for tutor (Septimus Hodge played with proper hauteur and virility by Trevor Young Marston) and his charming but far too intelligent student Thomasina Cloverly (the simply delicious Izabel Mar), and it also serves as the battleground for a contemporary scholar and a writer who wish to reconstruct the past, but don’t see it the same way.

Throughout, the play switches between the time periods; the only character who appears in both is a live tortoise whose performance is more than adequate. An important conceit upon which the play revolves is that Lord Byron spent time here in the early 19th C. Stoppard offers sportive slaps at the pretentions of scholars, and their ability to misinterpret the “historical” record while they stubbornly defend their positions against all naysayers. Alyson Scadron Branner and Evan Whitfield as the contemporary researchers are worthy opponents in this battle of the minds.

Some of the characters had problems with the accents. I found it difficult to understand all that the lovely Thomasina had to say. But the large cast and production team, overall, bring us an intellectual and visual treat that’s here in Seattle only until June 8. If you enjoy cerebral challenges within a coating of humor, you should enjoy this.

The whole play is a mind game in fancy dress. From the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the characteristics of classical architecture, mathematical, literary, and physics, theories swirl through the air. I didn’t follow every one of them, but I don’t think that’s a problem. Who among us has the agility or breadth of mind that Stoppard has?

Wed.-Sun., through June 8, at Seattle Public Theater in the Bathhouse 7312 W. Green Lake Drive N. (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

Leave a Reply