Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's recent review of Celebration
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