Derbyshire, 1809. A 13-year-old girl asks her tutor to define the phrase “carnal embrace.” Is it like love? “Oh no, my lady,” he replies. “It is much nicer than that.” In Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, billed as “A Romantic comedy about sex, literature, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics,” the desire to know is more than erotic. The pursuit of knowledge is the thread which ties together two storylines set 180 years apart, in a stately English country home which has come to represent, as one character describes it, “the whole Romantic sham…the decline from thinking to feeling.”
And yet Arcadia, the 2014 Dramat Freshman Show directed by Zachary Elkind, JE ’17, and produced by Alison Mosier-Mills, JE ’17, is a play concerned with both logic and emotion. Thomasina Caverley (a talented Eliza Hopkins, SY ’17) is an adolescent genius who intuitively articulates complex mathematical ideas. The romantic escapades of her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Simon Schaitkin, JE ’17, played with just the right mix of licentiousness and sincerity), generate a trail of misleading clues for modern academics, including Byron scholar Bernard Nightingale (Taylor Rogers, BR ’17) and writer Hannah Jarvis (Marianna Gailus, SM ’17).
The actors bring wit and heart to their roles, with impeccable British accents courtesy of diction coach Stephanie Addenbrooke, JE ’17, who hails from Coventry, England. The set, lighting, and costumes effortlessly transition from the Regency period to the late 20th century: quills sit beside laptops, wellingtons alongside cravats. In the final tableau, characters from the early 19th and late 20th century dance a waltz in the great house, unnoticed by each other yet elegantly inhabiting the same space—a fitting end for this witty and touching play which so adeptly fuses thinking and feeling, the past and the present.