Friday, February 10, 2012

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, Austin Shakespeare at the Rollins Theatre, Long Center, February 2 - 19

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, Austin Shakespeare, TX

Last Friday the first question to Director Ann Ciccolella during Austin Shakespeare's regular post-performance talk-back with the audience was "How do you choose the plays for the Austin Shakespeare season?"

"The language," Ciccolella replied without hesitation. 'I'm always looking for plays that are rich in language, like this one."

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia shines with wit and whimsicality. The dialogues between these characters are so quick and clever that sometimes you perch on the edge of your seat, breathlessly holding back your laughter so that you won't miss a single syllable. This is wit writ deep -- in the characters, their contrasting views of the world and their social positions; in dissembling, feuding and courtship; and in the juxtaposition and then the overlapping within the same genteel English estate of events that occurred in 1809 and modern- day investigations of those events by archeologists and academics. The message is that truth is unknowable and that life occurs only in the flicker and illumination of the present moment.

Unlike other arts, theatre performances occur in all four dimensions. The fourth, that of time, is the most challenging, for actions occurring before your eyes will never exactly replicate themselves.

Georgia McLeland, Collin Bjork (image: Kimberley Mead) Arcadia Tom Stoppard Austin Shakespeare For example, we attended this remarkable production on the second day of a three-weekend run. Perhaps you witnessed it the night before or at some succeeding performance. We can exchange views about it -- about the superb acting, the richness of language, the verisimilitude of those English accents, Jonathan Hiebert's costumes, Jason Amato's mastery of mood and lighting, the startling simplicity and sublime concept of Ia Ensterä's set. But we were not there at the event. Language fails to capture adequately even a shared reality; how much more tenuous it becomes when we describe different although related events.

In keeping with that theme, Arcadia is both an investigation and a detective story. It opens in 1809 as impecunious tutor Septimus Hodge is artfully avoiding difficult questions posed by his aristocratic pupil Thomasina Coverly. "Carnal embrace" becomes a theme of equivocation, not only in the classroom but also when outraged versifier Ezra Chater accuses Hodge and demands the satisfaction of a duel.

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