Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Arcadia
West End Players Guild
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of Celebration


Nicole Angeli, Michael Cassidy Flynn, Mason Hunt,
Kristin Rion, and Jaz Tucker

Photo by John Lamb
A complex show that richly rewards your close attention, Tom Stoppard's 1993 drawing room comedy spans 200 years. The frequently funny production at West End Players is directed by Ellie Schwetye.

Even with a fantastic cast of bright young actors, Arcadia can be a bit difficult here and there. You may be daunted by talk of the second law of thermodynamics or by the much larger discussion of algorithms. Or, maybe the disorienting effect of all that science and math makes it easier to grab on to a fleeting glimpse into the past, if only for familiarity's sake. Either way, there's still a lot more beyond all that to love.

The fictionalized 13-year-old girl who first theorizes the blossoming (and, perhaps, terrifying) mechanical mechanisms that are algorithms, Thomasina Coverly (Kristin Rion) is quite adorable: Arcadia follows her up to the riveting eve of her first romance and ... well, you'll see. But it's definitely worth the wait. As everything finally comes together in the end, your mind will feel like it's a deck of cards being shuffled by an expert blackjack dealer.

You might also get a bit lost in the furious excitement of a modern-day expert on Lord Byron, Bernard Nightingale (the delightful John Wolbers), whose lust for TV interviews fogs his interest in historical fact. Both characters, Nightingale and Thomasina, should be inconceivable in the same play, but they're strangely linked pieces in Stoppard's amazing puzzle. Gradually the puzzle reveals why human beings so rarely seem to make the right decision, or make the right thing happen, when love (or love of self) comes waltzing in the door.

Lots of bright humor enlivens a wintry thicket of ideas, thanks to Arcadia's stylish 19th century characters, including Thomasina's charming, rakish tutor Septimus Hodge (Michael Cassidy Flynn). The action bounces from 1809-1812 up to the present and back again. And when characters from the different centuries finally begin to overlap on stage, the real magic of great ideas colliding with unstoppable human nature is overwhelming.

Nicole Angeli is sultry yet diffident as Nightingale's modern-day nemesis Hannah Jarvis, searching through old books and letters on an English estate, Sidley Park. The subject matter, of course, is what's happening in the same room in the 19th century, as Septimus and a little-known poet, Mr. Chater (a great, Dickensian character here, in Andrew Kuhlman's delightful performance), proceed toward a duel at sunrise. How they came to this pass, and whether or not Lord Byron was involved, are central to the Stoppard's tantalizing idea of genius stymied by lowly desire. In Arcadia, we are both Frankenstein and monster.

The action is brisk under Ms. Schwetye's hand. She brings the show in at less than two and a half hours' duration. Frankly, Mr. Nightingale could be slowed down about 10%, verbally, or his accent thinned-out a bit, but otherwise everything's laid out pretty clearly. And Erin Renee Roberts and Jaz Tucker are very good as modern day residents at Sidley Park.

Lady Croom (Ann Marie Mohr) has some rollicking run-ins with a visionary Victorian gardens expert Richard Noakes (Carl Overly, Jr.), heightening the clash between her sensible "Age of Reason" approach to landscaping and Hoakes' outdoorsy tribute to the rough-hewn Romantics like Byron. Actually, Mohr's Lady Croom clashes beautifully with pretty much everyone in the 19th century: if she ever fills-out, she'll be a formidable Lady Bracknell. And Anthony Wininger is outstanding as her brother Captain Brice, a great commanding British naval captain whose off-stage intervention helps tie everything up in the end.

Through October 9, 2016, at the Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.

Cast of Characters
Thomasina Coverly: Kristin Rion
Septimus Hodge: Michael Cassidy Flynn
Jellaby: Scott De Broux
Ezra Chater: Andrew Kuhlman
Richard Noakes: Carl Overly, Jr.
Lady Croom: Ann Marie Mohr
Captain Brice, RN: Anthony Wininger
Hannah Jarvis: Nicole Angeli
Chloe Coverly: Erin Renee Roberts
Bernard Nightingale: John Wolbers
Valentine Coverly: Jaz Tucker
Gus Coverly/Augustus Coverly: Mason Hunt

Crew
Director: Ellie Schwetye
Assistant Director/Dramaturg: Kate McAllister
Stage Manager: Kristen Strom
Lighting Design: Benjamin Lewis
Sound Design: Ellie Schwetye
Costumes: Tracey Newcomb-Margrave
Scenic Painter: Marjorie Williamson
Graphic Design: Marjorie Williamson
Box Office Manager: Danny Austin
House Manager: Carrie Phinney
Program: Sean Belt
Social Media Intern: Alex Glow


Privacy Policy