|Tom Pecinka, Rebekah Brockman|
Photo: Joan Marcus
Thomasina is my favorite Stoppard character. Her innocence and brilliance, her straightforward way of seeing the world, her development from girl to woman are deeply real. That you know that she will not live past the time period shown in the play is devastating. One measure of the strength of this particular production is that I had tears in my eyes for most of the 2nd act. It was my 6th production of Arcadia, yet the emotions were as deep as the first time.
[end of spoilers]
Arcadia is one my favorite plays--possibly my absolute favorite. (For an excellent discussion of why it may be "the greatest play of our age," click here.) It has the riches of five or six of the best of most mortals' works, with its fascinating discussions/depictions of science, history, egos, sex, gardening, poetry, and most of all, love. And within this context of brilliance and heart, it is also extremely funny.
You can tell within about two minutes if you're in good hands with a production of Arcadia. Pretty much as soon as Thomasina asks her tutor Septimus, "What is carnal embrace?" you know if the director and cast understand the many levels of their relationship, and therefore the many levels of the play. Rebekah Brockman came across as a tad old for Thomasina, but was excellent. Tom Pecinka, a Yale MFA student, played an exactly-right charming and smart Septimus. (My only complaint is that he didn't nail his speech about a particular woman's "chief renown [being] for a readiness that keeps her in a state of tropical humidity as would grow orchids in her drawers in January," but, oh well.)
If you have a good Thomasina and Septimus, you have a good Arcadia, but this was a great Arcadia, with first-class performances all around. In particular, Stephen Barker Turner was the best Bernard Nightingale I have seen; Bernard is a pompous twit, but Turner found a vulnerability in him that gave his pompous twittery an odd depth.
I have now seen two Off-Off Broadway productions of Arcadia, plus one in D.C. at the Folger Library, another at the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego, and still another on Broadway. How sad, how pathetic, that the only lousy production was the one on Broadway. (My review is here.)
Luckily, the theatre world recognizes the importance of Arcadia, and it is likely that it will be back again and again. Do see it. See it as many times as you can.
(first-row mezz first act; first-row orchestra second act; full-price ticket and worth every cent)