Theatre Review by David Hurst - July 19, 2017
Attention all Tom Stoppard fans! Rising out of the theatrical mist comes an engaging, new staging of Arcadia, Stoppard's time-traveling meditation on art, science and love courtesy of PTP/NYC's (Potomac Theatre Project) 31st summer, repertory season their 11th season in New York. But you need to act quickly since this too-brief run of what many consider Stoppard's masterpiece plays only through August 6. As fans of Arcadia know, solid professional productions of this tricky and complicated play are few and far between. Since it burst on the scene at London's National Theatre in 1993, New Yorkers have been treated to Trevor Nunn's gorgeous, original Broadway staging at Lincoln Center's Beaumont in 1995, as well as a solid revival directed by David Leveaux in 2011 at the Barrymore. What PTP/NYC's revival may lack in the polish of those two productions, it makes up for in spirited performances and the intimate space of Atlantic 2 in Chelsea.
Megan Byrne, Andrew William Smith, Steven Dykes,
and Caitlin Duffy
Photo by Stan Barouh
Directed with stylish panache by Cheryl Faraone, the plot of Stoppard's Arcadia focuses on two sets of people from the Coverly family, one in the early 19th century (1809-1812) and one in the late 20th century (around the turn of the millennium). The setting for both time periods is the samethat of a room on the garden front of the Coverly's large country house, Sidley Park, in Derbyshire. As Stoppard's play travels back and forth in time, the set and props remain the same for their inhabitants even as they're put to different use. As the play opens in 1809, the gifted 13-year old Thomasina Coverly (a charming Caitlin Duffy) is being instructed by her equally gifted tutor, Septimus Hodge (the terrific Andrew William Smith) in math when Thomasina suddenly asks for a definition of carnal embrace. It becomes clear Hodge has been having a dalliance with the wife of Ezra Chater (a properly befuddled Jonathan Tindle), a poet of dubious merit who is staying at Sidley Park at the invitation of Captain Brice (Steven Dykes), Thomasina's uncle and brother to Lady Croom (a marvelous Megan Byrne), Thomasina's mother. It seems Hodge and Mrs. Chater were seen in a gazebo by Lady Croom's landscape architect Richard Noakes (Sebastian LaPointe) who felt obliged to report what he saw to Mr. Chater. Fortunately, a duel is avoided and a signed copy of Chater's latest poetical epic (The Couch of Eros) is bestowed on Hodge. This book and the personal notes stuffed inside it will play a pivotal role in the lives of the family almost two hundred years later.
The present day Sidley Park finds two academic researchers eager to use the holdings of the Coverly family to prove their different theories. Hannah Jarvis (a commanding Stephanie Janssen) hopes to find information as to the identity of a hermit who lived on the estate, while Bernard Nightingale (an appropriately irritating Alex Draper) is searching for evidence that Lord Byron had visited the estate and perhaps even been involved in a scandalous duel. Hannah and Bernard get off on the wrong foot even as they're assisted in their research by a promiscuous Chloe Coverly (the appealing Eliza Renner), her brother who's sweet on Hannah, Valentine Coverly (Jackson Prince), and their younger brother Gus Coverly (Manny Duran) who hasn't spoken since the age of 5 but who has a knack for uncovering pivotal documents at precipitous moments. (Note: Billy Crudup played Septimus Hodge in the 1995 production and, in a coup de theatre, took on Bernard Nightingale in the 2011 revival.)
Alex Draper & Stephanie Janssen
Photo by Stan Barouh
As Arcadia moves back and forth between the two sets of characters Stoppard slowly reveals the puzzle, piece by piece, until it's clear that people and their motivations remain basically unchanged despite the passage of time. It's the quest for knowledge that matters most and Stoppard proceeds to expand upon this axiom in the philosophical debating between his characters. Whether it's Classicism vs. Romanticism, Newton's Laws of Motion vs. Chaos Theory or the differences between landscape architects Capability Brown and Salvator Rosa, Arcadia is a treasure trove of debate and not to be missed.
Through August 6
The Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix