I fell in love with Arcadia when I was lucky enough to see it in London in 1995; I’ve counted, and this makes the fourth production of the show I’ve seen since then. Tom Stoppard is one of my favorite playwrights; his language is without compare, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s beautiful language. Arcadia has that and more.
The play jumps between two time periods – the early 1800s and present day in an English country house. In the 1800s, Thomasina (Hannah De Los Santos) is being tutored by Septimus (Matt Fields); we learn quickly she’s a mathematical genius. In the present, Hannah (Sam Primm) and Bernard (Sam O’Connor) are researching different aspects of the house in the 1800s; Hannah, a hermit that lived on the grounds, and Bernard, a theory he has that Lord Byron killed a lesser poet, Ezra Chater (Alex Seftas) in a duel, then fled the country. We see the past unfold before us while Hannah and Bernard do their research; mysteries (science, math, literature, love) are unearthed and ties between the past and the present become more clear.
The acting is uneven in this production; there are some actors doing fine work, and some who made confusing choices, and I’m not sure if this rests on the actor’s’ shoulders or were decisions of director Matthew Reichel. Luckily, De Los Santos and Fields have strong chemistry and are both very watchable; the show rests on them, and they carry it off admirably, especially De Los Santos, who makes for a winsome yet adamant Thomasina. Karrington Martin is both ethereal and steely as Thomasina’s mother Lady Croom; Primm is very relatable as a moral researcher who wants the truth more than the applause, and Marcus J. Barbret, as Valentine, the scientist/mathematician son of the woman who owns the home in the present, is so comfortable on stage you barely know he’s acting.
Freiler’s take on Chater seems to be a desire to add more levity to the role than is actually written, and this doesn’t work; he comes off as an unbelievable caricature. The same can be said for O’Connor; although, yes, Bernard is not a likeable character, one as unlikeable as he plays wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the home, and he also comes off as very cartoonish at times. The humor is there – Stoppard is a brilliant writer – and there’s no need to mug for laughs. There were also times (again, a directorial choice? An acting choice?) the actors in the 1800s mock higher-class characters broadly behind their backs; I can’t guarantee this isn’t in the script (it has been a while since I last saw the show) but it’s childish and distracting and I’m fairly sure would have gotten these two characters fired.
Although I still got weepy at times (this show does that to me with every viewing) it’s a version of Arcadia that skims over the deeper meaning of the play, and, ultimately, I wanted more from it.
“Arcadia;” RPI Players; RPI, 110 8th St., Troy; through November 18; $16-$6; Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; www.facebook.com/TheRPIPlayers