Friday, October 17, 2014

Theater Review Arcadia -- Yale Rep

Rebekah Brockman and Tom Pecinka in Arcadia. Photo © Joan Marcus
A Waltz Across Centuries to Discover the Truth
By Lauren Yarger
Nothing – and everything – is certain in Arcadia, Tom Stoppard’s sharp, intelligent play which waltzes the present and past In a dance for truth. The present production at Yale Rep has a few missteps, however.

At Sidley Park, an English country house in Derbyshire, two dramas unfold, one in 1809, the other in modern day (1993 in the original) with scenes playing out from one time frame to the other. Set Designer Adrian Martinez Fraust’s imposing, light blue walls serve as the backdrop for an ever-present library table and a couple of chairs used in both eras. Costume Designer Grier Coleman also helps define the time travel.

The lives of the characters from both time periods intertwine as present day scholars research past events to determine whether Lord Byron ever stayed at the estate. The 19th-century inhabitants of Sidley show us just what really happened. An old tortoise, and Original Music by Matthew Sutter, help make transitions between scenes while keeping continuity.

Hannah Jarvis (René   Augesen), an author who has written a best-selling book about Byron’s mistress, now is researching a hermit who lived on the grounds of Sidley Park, landscaped by designer Richard Noakes (Julian Gamble) under the supervision of Thomasina’s mother, Lady Croom (Felicity Jones), and Lady Croom’s brother, Captain Brice (Graham Rowat).

Scholar Bernard Nightingale (Stephen Barker Turner), who is convinced that not only did Lord Byron stay at the estate, but that he killed poet Ezra Chater (Jonathan Spivey) in a duel while there. He is so sure, that he even announced his theory on national TV, so now he must provide it. He joins forces with Hannah.

Chloe Coverly, a descendant of the family, and her brother, Valentine (Max Gordon Moore), join in the research, with Valentine’s study of the estate’s “game books” and their account of game hunted on the estate providing valuable clues.

Meanwhile, back in 1809, tutor Septimus Hodge (Thomas Pecinka) tries to get his soon-to-turn 17 year old pupil Thomasina Coverly (Rebekah Brockman) interested in poetry, but the flighty girl has other things on her mind. She loves mathematics and soon starts to prove an amazing theory about heat exchange and time. Her attempted proof finds its way to Valentine two centuries later. Or was it the elusive hermit who penned the ages of equations?

Nothing is simple in this Arcadia, from playwright Stoppard, the four-time Tony and Academy Award-winning author of The Coast    of Utopia, Rough Crossing and the film “Shakespeare in Love. Certainly nothing about the past is certain, but the investigation into it is where this production mostly gets off track.

For some reason the relationships between the modern characters never gel. Silent Gus Coverly (Bradley James Tejeda). Valentine and Chloe’s younger brother, is one of the main links to the past, where  Tejeda also plays Thomasina’s younger brother, Augustus, but the connection is lost here. So is Gus’s crush on Hannah. Meanwhile, the pace of the two-hour, 45-minute production is slow. Also troublesome are phony sounding English accents (Dialect Coaching by Stephen Gabis).

Standing out is Pecinka who brings an energy and vitality to Septimus, whose way with the ladies provides the catalyst for the duel Nightingale would like to attribute to Byron.

The play itself is intriguing  as past and present become dance  partners to show that nothing much changes and that truth is ever illusive.

Arcadia runs at Yale Rep through Oct. 25. Peformance times vary. Tickets $20-$98: (203) 432-1234;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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