Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, Bad Habit Productions, Virginia Wimberley Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 8/11/11-8/28/11.
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
Bad Habit Productions avoids pretension as it follows the serpentine path of thought from enlightenment to romance. The witty exchanges bounce from the actors’ tongues to all four walls of the theatre. The characters learn that the journey is more important than the definition of terms. The production dances with little hesitation through the rhythmical patterns of Stoppard’s language.
Characters from two centuries in England search their landscape for love, lust, truth, and knowledge. The play opens in the early 1800’s when Enlightenment ideals are being traded for pastoral portraits. Septimus Hodge, played by Greg Nussen, is questioned by his young pupil Thomasina Coverly, played by Alycia Sacco regarding carnal pleasure. Alycia Sacco evokes both the innocence and precociousness that perfectly embodies her character. Nussen’s Septimus Hodge is dashing, nonchalant contemporary of Lord Byron. He avoids several altercations by outwitting his adversaries through clever wordplay. The small exchanges between the various inhabitants of the manse are parsed and examined by modern day researchers through notes and historical records to discover the “realities” of the past.
Sarah Bedard plays the researcher Hannah Jarvis who is studying the gardens that were created during Hodge’s time. She tries to understand the transformation of the garden from the small amount of data that she finds. As Hannah, Sarah Bedard is grounded and scholarly. A fellow academic Bernard Nightingale, played by John Geoffrion, seeks to glean information from Hannah’s research for his own paper. Geoffrion’s Nightingale is self-absorbed and more interested in style over substance.
The most interesting casting choice of Daniel Morris is Rebbekaah Vega Romero as Chloe Coverly. This clever choice crosses and connects the past and present. Rebbekaah Vega Romero and Alycia Sacco upon first glance could be twins. This physical connection heightens the turntable of time as the scenes unfold. While their voices are slightly different, without careful observation they seem almost to be one person.
Daniel Morris made a smart choice in converting the Wimberly stage into an arena theatre. Mr. Morris respects the words and intimacy of the play by immersing the audience in Stoppard’s chaotic world, unlike the recent Broadway revival which lost much of the language as it tried to transfer throughout the large theatre. The star of a Stoppard play is always the words and they must be heard clearly to begin to understand his work.
The only fault of this production is that it seems to slow down at the moment when it should speed up. When the cracks between past and present dissolve, the play seems to lag and lose some of the urgency of the chaos. However, this is not a fatal flaw.
Bad Habit’s production of Arcadia celebrates the playwright’s poetry. It demonstrates how human beings enjoy the pursuit of desires more than the actualization of them. Through clever casting and smart staging the audience almost gets carried away to this world of theory and speculation.