Friday, January 15, 2016

Review: Arcadia at Lakewood Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, Jan. 15, 2016

Hannah (Deya Ozburn) and Valentine (Jacob Tice). Photo by Tim Johnson
Steve Tarry, director of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” at Lakewood Playhouse writes in a program note that Stoppard’s plays are challenging, “and this one is doubly so” and presents “even greater challenges for the audience by assuming as common knowledge that which is unfamiliar to many.”
Lakewood Playhouse Artist Director John Munn said in his curtain speech that it might be wise to come back for a second viewing because to see what you missed the first time around. I have to agree. The dialogue is dense, the story complex, and issues as challenging and diverse as fractals, philosophy, chaos theory and romantic love are argued by the characters who exist in two time frames, the 19th century and the present. Making it even more complicated and provocative, the two time periods converge in the final scene.
It is brilliantly written, funny, and thought provoking. Close attention must be paid. And I must warn the reader that you may not understand all of it.
The scenes that take place in the past revolve around Thomasina (Kait Mahoney), a precocious 13-year-old in the first act and 16 in later scenes (to be more precise, she says she is 13 years and 11 months in the early scene and 16 years and 11 months later) and her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Mason Quinn). Both actors make their characters likable –downright loveable in the case of Thomasina, who as a child shows marked signs of genius, understanding chaos theory and the second law of thermodynamics before either is established theory. A good example of her genius is her explanation of how time works both backwards and forwards with an analogy of pudding that can’t be "unstirred."

From left: Septimus (Mason Quinn),Ezra (Ben Stahl) and Capt. Brice (Michael Christopher). Photo by Tim Johnson.
Thomasina and Septimus argue good-naturedly about philosophy and physics and “carnal embraces.” From the beginning there are hints of erotic attraction between them. Erotic attraction, in fact, is a major subtext throughout the play, and the subject of many of the funniest one-liners.
Scenes that take place in present time flow around similar arguments – but much more acrimonious and sarcastic – between the writer Hannah Jarvis (Deya Ozburn) and the self-important English professor Bernard Nightingale (Jed Slaughter), who argue endlessly over Nightingale’s theory that the romantic poet Lord Byron killed the lesser poet Ezra Chater (Ben Stahl) in a duel.
Ozburn and Slaughter shine white hot in their scenes together, as does Jacob Tice as Valentine Coverly, a modern-day mathematician who is studying old documents that point to the genius of Thomasina. (He is the main lynchpin connecting the past and present, which become indistinguishable in the final scene.)
The supporting cast is also terrific, particularly Michael Christopher as Captain Brice, Jenifer Rifenbery as Lady Croom, and Charlie Stevens as Augustus Coverly and his present-day counterpart, Gus Coverly. Stevens does more with less than any actor I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t imagine any other actor turning and walking off stage so hilariously.
“Arcadia” is not an easy play to watch. It is long, and the interconnected story lines are hard to follow; but in the end they come together making order out of chaos, another major theme of this play. I recommend reading the script or researching it as best you can before seeing it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 3
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., LakewoodTICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 military, $21.00 seniors and $19.00 students/educators, pay what you can
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

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