Review by Seattle Actor
Presented by: Seattle Public Theater
Tom Stoppard may be the smartest playwright in the world. More importantly, his plays are never constructed so that you are made aware that the playwright is smart, but so that the intelligence belongs entirely to the characters. I can think of no better example than “Arcadia”, a journey of two groups of people living on the same estate one hundred and eighty years apart. A long and exceptionally complicated story it is an enormous challenge to the actors and an even greater challenge to the audience.
Stoppard is always aware that we are in the theater to be entertained and his brilliant wit keeps us focused on ideas, on the passions and folly of people in an unending pursuit of knowledge, about themselves, about their past and about how the world, how the universe, actually works. The plot of this show is so complicated that I’m not sure I could recount it without making it sound like gibberish, but this accomplished and balanced cast, under the superb direction of Kelly Kitchens, keeps everything that happens clear and engaging. Time travel, historical research, botany, literary scholarship, romantic and sexual entanglements, science and mathematics, poetry and sheer imagination are never presented simply as the writer’s ideas, but rather as the content of these people’s lives, the driving forces of their experience.
In the opening moments we see a thirteen year-old girl, Thomasina, asking her tutor, Septimus Hodge what is meant by “carnal embrace”. Septimus tries to dodge, but this is a young woman who will allow nothing to block her pursuit of knowledge, and that sets up the central motivation for everyone else in the show. This brilliant young woman, who will die far, far too young, is really the center of the show’s thematic universe, both in her own time (1809) and for those who live in the distant future of 1989. Izabel Marwas quite remarkable in the role of Thomasina, her diction and line delivery both rapid and clear, but above all in her sense of the extraordinary in both her life and her mind. While we see her age to almost seventeen, there is such maturity in even the young, innocent child that we can only sadly imagine what a full lifetime would have been. Ms. Mar is a young actress to watch. I think her future is likely as bright as Thomasina’s might have been.
Her tutor, Septimus, played by Trevor Young Marston was likeable and convincing, a man with more knowledge if not more wisdom than his student. In many ways Septimus will be paralleled by the literary scholar Bernard, played with fierce ambition by Evan Whitfield. He may be pursuing a lost work by Byron, but what he is really trying to do is put some mark on history to identify his own life. His romantic focus and rival in that later day was the excellent Alyson Scandron Branner as Hannah Jarvis, a woman who sees through practically everyone. I loved her practicality and lack of self-delusion, rather a contrast to the former owner of the house, Lady Croom, played with a grand sweep of proper inconsequence by Emily Goodwin. I also really enjoyed the always commendable Trick Danneker as Valentine Coverly. There really wasn’t a weak character in this emphatic and balanced cast, and Brandon Ryan, Mike Dooly,Tim Moore, Jocelyn Maher, Gianni Truzzi and the very young Ingamar Christophersen all added greatly to the worlds and eras inside this estate.
All of these exceptional characters couldn’t have happened, and the production itself could not have been so successful without the extraordinary direction of Kelly Kitchens. A play filled with enough text to fill several more commonplace works, Kitchens puts exactly the right emphasis on every moment of the play. She has a perfect understanding of every dynamic in the character relationships, keeps the pace (a critical element) fast-moving and precisely modulated to the intricately developing story. Best of all, she makes every gesture, every expression, every desire belong to the individuals on stage. If this was a play of ideas, it was also a play about the way in which ideas drive real lives. Kitchens gave us a master class in theatrical direction.
Seattle Public Theater couldn’t ask for a better production to put a cap on an exceptionally successful 2013-2014 season. “Arcadia” may well be Stoppard’s masterpiece and I am quite certain it will weather time as successfully and vividly as this grand estate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better production of this show.
PICTURED ABOVE: (Left to Right) Trevor Young Marston (as Septimus) and Izabel Mar (as Thomasina).
PHOTO BY: Paul Bestock