When I closed the final page of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia eight years ago, time slowed. My head spun with more ideas than I could handle. Heartache crawled up the back of my throat. For the first time, I was able to see that what is in our heads can also be in our hearts, and the more relentless we are as thinkers, the more relentlessly we can love. Arcadia takes place in both the early 1800s and 2004. Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale are a modern-day pair of scholars independently visiting the estate of a landed aristocratic British family. Hannah seeks to unveil the identity of the Hermit of Sidley Park, while Bernard attempts to peg a murder he believes to have happened at the estate on none other than Lord Byron. Hannah and Bernard's scenes alternate with those involving a youthful tutor (Septimus Hodge) and his charge (Thomasina Coverly) from the time period Bernard and Hannah are studying.
The enormity of Arcadia is staggering. Stoppard takes on literature, science, mathematics, and philosophy; he questions predestination and the nature of God; he dramatically pits intellectual rivals against each other and effortlessly stirs up an engrossing narrative of graceful simplicity.
Every scene contains a core dramatic arc that shouldn't be hard to play correctly. Stoppard's dialogue is ferociously intellectual but full of nuances, wit, and beauty. He uses an enormous aristocratic estate as his setting and allows the play's action to bandy between two centuries. In short, he outdoes himself.
Against such magnitude, Invisible City Theatre Company's (ICTC) production is startlingly intimate. The ensemble is working in a very tiny space with crisp design elements. Rather than admiring the morning room of Sidley Park from afar, the audience is in it. In this space, with these people, it is impossible to avoid succumbing to the quickly paced frenzy of ideas, impossible not to feel as though we are part of the fabric of that world.
Kudos to ICTC for having the courage to mount this gigantic play in such a tiny space; their decision is counterintuitive, but it pays off magnificently. Rather than observe arguments, we are enveloped in them. And as Bernard, Hannah, and Valentine Coverly (Avery Clark), a graduate student studying mathematics, assert, the arguing itself is trivial, but the passions that drive the arguing are the reasons we live.
ICTC turns out a uniformly well-acted show: sound ensemble acting with intelligent, heady, passionate performances all around. Actors go to school so they will have the chops to play Septimus, should the opportunity arise. Adam Devine gets under Septimus's skin and does not look back; he's rakish and heartbreaking and totally swoon-worthy. Christine Albright's Thomasina is precocious, brilliant and innocent. The delicacy of their relationship is heightened by the restraint in David Epstein's direction. Rebecca Miller's Hannah and David Ian Lee's Bernard are delightful contemporary contrasts