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BWW Review: Complexity and Cunning Appear in APT's Extraordinary ARCADIA

Photo Credit; Liz Lauren

Could life be portrayed similar to a steaming cup of tea that eventually grows cool, and finally stone cold? That premise represents one possible physical property of energy, specifically heat, in Tom Stoppard's 1993 play titled Arcadia. At American Players Theatre (APT) Up the Hill stage, Stoppard's contemporary, complex and cunning production poses the duality to life and questions theoretical polar opposites such as order versus chaos. In this absorbing and provocative play where the heat of romantic love interferes with life's scientifically charted course, where the unpredictable and predetermined meet, this APT cast features excellent poetic form when playing what Stoppard also contemplated: "It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them."

Ah, yes, in Arcadia, which by the way has come to metaphorically mean a simple, peaceful and often pastoral ideal, love and lives converge, in the early 19th century, 1808/1813, and then contemporary times. Characters in the 21st century are determining what happened almost a hundred years ago, which plays out on the stage when the two time periods alternate in separate scenes at the English manor house.

Love, life, literature and science whirl similar to what Stoppard also writes when he considers "stirring a spoonful of jam in rice pudding." As the play's one young character puts this, spooned in One Direction, the jam creates a red trail [in the pudding], while spooned in the other direction conjoins the pudding and jam into a pink dessert, the pink and white now indistinguishable,..As this precocious teenager in the early 19th century observed: "You cannot stir things apart."

Director James Bohnen assembled Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet's elongated, massive table, required in Stoppard's set directions, and Rachel Anne Healy's period costume designs in Derbyshire, England for a timeless British appeal, and feels equally at home in either time period. Palladium windows placed over huge French doors, where these characters weave seamlessly in and out of centuries, act and move at a balanced pace to catch every word in the script, even the scientific theories.

In this setting, Thomasina Coverly, an enchanting Rebecca Hurd, challenges her handsome tutor, Septimus, a debonair Nate Burger, when they study mathematical and romantic concepts Thomasina ponders far ahead of her time and years. Thomasina's mother, Lady Groom-an elegant role for Tracy Michelle Arnold- toys with changing the English garden design outside her country manor SIdley Park, from the classical style to the Romantic Gothic theme, courtesy of Gardner Richard Nookes (Gavin Lawrence). This plan includes installing a small cottage or hermitage in the landscape-a room for an actual hermit to live.

In the 21st century, Colleen Madden enjoys playing the evasive Hannah Jarvis, a clever researcher who searches for who the hermit in the Coverly garden might have been. Another scholar, Bernard Nightingale, a role for the rapscallion professor culled by James DeVita, struggles with deciding if Lord Byron, yes, the poet, visited the Derbyshire estate during this time. Scientist Valentine Coverly, a persistent Steve Haggard, determines if Thomasina's notebook carries complex mathematical concepts, and how many grouse where killed on any given day at Sidley Park. A descendent of the original Coverly family, Chloe, a delightful Jennifer Latimore, chases Bernard and attends to Gus (Colin Low), her mute brother, while planning a historical ball to celebrate the estate's history.

Simplicity indeed evades Stoppard's Arcadia to the audience's benefit while humor abounds amid the scientific facts, principles and theories being discussed with familiarity on stage where imagination and reality intermingle. The long oblong table offers a center point to the time periods,a certain order set amid the centuries and characters, until the two eras overlap in the final scenes. The fascinating evening also overlaps into provocative entertainment when romantic chemistry between Septimus and Thomasina, Hannah, Valentine, and Bernard, and then Bernard and Chloe heats up.

Numerous moments whirl when statistical science meets how life transpires and transforms through the past and present to question what one century thinks they know and believe about the past and consequently, predict for the future. Or perhaps if heat, or as Thomasina discovers, sex, changes the natural and molecular concepts. Where and when does, "a carnal embrace," or perhaps more poetically said by Lord Byron, "She walks in beauty like the night and all that's best of dark and bright..a heart whose love is innocent"..." challenge science order and change into chaos?

In the aftermath of an evening spent in Arcadia, perhaps for a week or so, the audience might ponder that cup of coffee or tea each time they partake and watch their hot drink cool over time. Or reflect when they can, how easily they can now reheat the liquid in the cup by using a microwave oven, even when the original steam dissipates. Then the audience will remember APT"s entertaining and extraordinary Arcadia, wondering if life is ever as simple as that cup of coffee-either in taste, or the flavor notes used and how cream, cocoa or cinnamon might be added, which cannot be undone once poured into the cup.

The audience might then contemplate does all life eventually cool and turn cold over time, eventually leading them to discover another "cup" or another "cafe" and when will this all come to a theoretical end where there can be no more heat burned and consumed from a hot cup of liquid? All fascinating information this summer at APT. So wonder with wild abandon and consider these amazing scientific theories inherent in this wondrous world while applauding Stoppard's challenging and comedic Arcadia.

American Players Theatre presents Tom Stoppard's Arcadia at the Up the Hill Theatre in Spring Green through October. For special events, further information, performance schedule and tickets, please call: 608.588.2631 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan