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Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
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Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

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(Arcadia Website)

By Tom Stoppard

Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

Margaret Colin, Billy Crudup, Raul Esparza
Glenn Fleshler, Grace Gummer, Edward James Hyland
Byron Jennings, Bel Powley, Tom Riley, Noah Robbins
David Turner, Lia Williams

Set: Hildegard Bechtler
Costumes: Gregory Gale
Lighting: Donald Holder
Sound: David Van Tieghem
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA
Hair: David Brian Brown
Music: Corin Buckeridge
Production Stage Manager: Ira Mont
Advertising & Marketing: aka
Technical Supervisor: Peter Fulbright
Dialect Consultant: Elizabeth Smith
Choreographer: Jodi Moccia
US General Management: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 24, 2011

This production of Arcadia, Tom Stoppardís 1993 philosophical play that presents characters and scenes almost two centuries apart, in seamless synergy, unfortunately has inherently poor sound design and British enunciation, an amorphous experience for the viewer. Set in Sidley Park, in the English countryside, in the early 1800ís as well as in the same Sidley Park dining room in the late 1900ís, two sets of characters merge, with the first having a relationship with Lord Byron, the poet, and the second researching Lord Byronís inner circle, poetry, and colorful adventures. The dining table, large, wooden, and well lit, as is most of this play, is adorned with what seems a large, live turtle, books, laptop, quill pens, and coffee cups. French doors open to gardens that Lady Croom is re-landscaping for symmetry and aesthetics. The contemporary characters come and go through those doors with muddy boots and loud voices. In fact, the most striking contrast in early and late dialogue is the level of gentility and elegance of conversation and manner. Unfortunately, itís that elegant conversation that seemed lost between stage and audience, with lengthy soliloquies and academic banter. The later conversation, with more strident, idiomatic dialogue, traveled the distance better.

Original characters are (In the early 1800ís) Bel Powley as Thomasina Coverly, a lovely teen whose hunger for academic premises is intriguing, Tom Riley as Septimus Hodge, Thomasinaís tutor, whoís a friend of Byron and a lover of the married matrons, Edward James Hyland as Jellaby, Lady Croomís servant at Sidley Park, David Turner as Ezra Chater, a visiting poet, whose wife beds Septimus, Byron Jennings as Richard Noakes, the gardener working on the expansive landscaping, Margaret Colin as Lady Croom, Thomasinaís mother, who finds Septimus enticing while laying down the rules, and Glenn Fleschler as Captain Brice, Lady Croomís lovelorn brother.

Modern characters are (In the late 1900ís) Lia Williams as Hannah Jarvis, a book-bound writer, who craves knowledge about the historical hermit of Sidley Park, Grace Gummer as ChloŽ Coverly, a teen reminiscent of Thomasina, an academic who flirts with Bernard, as Thomasina flirted with Septimus, Billy Crudup as Bernard Nightingale, a professor researching Byron, who was said to have visited Sidley Park, Raul Esparza as Valentine Coverly, ChloŽís elder brother, who busies himself with records and chronicles, elucidating on Thomasinaís early history, and Noah Robbins in an all too minor role as both Gus and Augustus Coverly, younger brother to both Thomasina and ChloŽ.

This truly esoteric work, with characters two centuries apart and storyline woven in such a way that each word has import, should be seen on a smaller, intimate stage, even a theatre in the round. At the Barrymore Theatre, with David Van Tieghemís difficult sound design and the patchy British accents, the intricacies of this eveningís experience were a challenge. As a writer with four college dissertations and a professional background in education, I was drawn to the premise of the drive for knowledge, the spontaneous sparks that motivate the mind. But I found myself relating to this play in bursts of magnetic appeal, such as the conversations between Thomasina and Septimus. In fact, Bel Powley and Tom Riley related to one another with palpable chemistry, emotional, physical, and intellectual. When the subject of a fire comes up toward the end of the play, Thomasinaís fate is so poignantly revealed. Itís then that the concept of the hermit of Sidley Park comes to light. But, again, the air between actors and audience was thin. It needs to be thick for the language to propel the plot.

Of the many characters, in addition to Ms. Powley and Mr. Riley, I was also drawn to Raul Esparza and Lia Williams, as Hannah and Valentine. Their chemistry, as well, was unmistakable, and when Mr. Esparza winked at Ms. Williams, he reminded me of his charismatic role in Speed-the-Plow. As Valentine, he was confident and clever. Grace Gummer and Billy Crudup, as well, caught my imagination, as ChloŽ related to Bernard with similar infatuation as did Thomasina to Septimus, but in contemporary manner. Hildegard Bechtlerís sets were decidedly stark, but the prominent table was the central focus. Transparent doors and windows, however, drew me in. Gregory Galeís costumes certainly contrasted the eras, as did David Brian Brownís hair designs. Donald Holderís lighting was mostly bright, bringing the gardens indoors. David Leveaux directed, but for the most part the dialogues were distantly ephemeral.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at