Sex, math and British intellect

Lincoln Hall Auditorium (LH175)
Tonight and Saturday (March 2, 3) – 8 p.m.
$6 students, $7 faculty/staff/seniors, $8 general
(503) 725-3307

Writing about a play like this is more complicated than the play itself.

Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” isn’t your normal play. This is a show that takes love, sex and mathematics, and spreads them evenly between two time periods.

The action of “Arcadia” takes place in two different eras, but in the same physical place. Half of the plot occurs in the 19th century, centering around the young math prodigy Lady Thomasina Coverly and her tutor, Septimus Hodge.

The show’s director, Karin Magaldi-Unger says that “Arcadia” is “a love story written like a great murder mystery.” The play is a sort of detective drama, playing off the two chronological settings in a clever fashion. The audience witnesses a variety of events, most of them comical, taking place in 1809. Then we also see how, in comedic detail, the “experts” interpret the by-products of those events 200 years later. It was interesting – the people in the future would make an assumption, and then the play would travel back to the past and disprove it.

The scenes switch off from time period to time period. Act I, Scene 1 is in the past, Act I, Scene 2 is in the present. Act I, Scene 3 is in the past and so on until the last scene. In a strange final scene, the action takes place in both time periods, with both sets of characters within what appears to be physical proximity of each other. They don’t take notice of each other, though, but the convergence of both time periods speaks different messages to everyone.

What I got out of the final scene was that things and people don’t change, no matter what time period they’re in. That’s shown by the use of the same lines by the different sets of people.

The play was well-acted and well-conceived, but I must be insensitive to British humor or something, because I didn’t get many of “Arcadia’s” jokes. This show is definitely full of intellectual humor, something to which I can’t relate. If you’re a fan of “Sense and Sensibility” and movies like that, “Arcadia” might be right up your alley.

The characters were impressive overall. I noticed, however, “Arcadia’s” male roles weren’t as strong and defined as the female characters. Septimus Hodge (Peter Pressman) seemed a bit too comical for his role, yet when his character got serious, I was convinced just enough that he was earnest.

As far as portrayal, the most convincing and entertaining was Max Blonde’s interpretation of Bernard Nightingale, the slimeball film critic. With slick hair, slick shoes and a quick mouth, Bernard was the sort of character you’d like to hate, but really just felt sorry for instead. Be sure to read Blonde’s entertaining biography in the program.

As far as the ladies went, the three leading women’s roles were absolutely sensational. I enjoyed the performance of Lady Thomasina, played by Sarah Hayes-Marshall. Although it was evident that she isn’t physically a girl of 13, Hayes-Marshall convinced the audience with her character’s naive yet intelligent approach to things. You really feel for the girl when she has an emotional outburst over the burning of the classical library in Alexandria. She conveys a great intelligence and an even greater heart.

Hannah is portrayed as a strong, independent woman of the modern era. She is portrayed as all-business on the outside, with a romantic core underneath. Ina V. Strauss does an excellent job with this, mirroring the strength of Lady Croom and the intelligence of Thomasina.

For the most part the cast does well with the thick British accents they must don. There was the occasional slip every once in a while, but overall it was quite good, especially with Septimus (Pressman). Obviously a lot of work went into that aspect of the production.

You may think you’re unfamiliar with Tom Stoppard’s work, but chances are you’ve already experienced some of his previous successes. Stoppard is well known for his play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” His screenplays for Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” have also earned him acclaim. The blockbuster film “Shakespeare in Love” was co-written by Stoppard, and just about everyone’s seen that movie.

“Arcadia” is a good romantic comedy/drama, for people who are prepared for it. This is the sort of play that can leave you with many questions.

If you think you might have questions (and you will), tonight is the night to attend “Arcadia.” The director and cast are holding a “Talk Back Session” following the play’s performance. With British accents, intellectually numbing language and swapping time periods, don’t feel stupid if you get lost. I did sometimes, but that’s also why you bring a date!