On Stage: “Arcadia”
Location: Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts
Love, mystery, history, math jokes … Tom Stoppard’s award-winning play Arcadia has it all. And April 16-19, 2014, the Washington College Drama Department will share it all, with a production directed by Assistant Professor Brendon Fox.
Opening 21 years ago at the Royal National Theatre in London, Arcadia has been the subject of extensive critical acclaim. In its debut year, 1993, it received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, soon followed by a Tony Award for Best Play and, in 2011, one for Best Revival of a Play. It is often referred to as one of the best dramatic works of the contemporary age.
Director Fox says it was not this impressive reputation that inspired him to bring the play to the Washington College stage, but rather how well it matched what he saw as the ethos of the college and its drama students. “This is a play I’ve wanted to do for over 15 years,” says Fox, who joined the Drama Department last fall. “But when I got to Washington College and saw how passionate the students were about learning, widely and for its own sake, I decided that Arcadia was a great match for them. The play is about people whose interests overlap, and that especially related to people at this college.”
Arcadia is, indeed, a play of overlaps. Set simultaneously in the early 1800s and the 1990s, the production focuses dually on 13-year-old genius Thomasina Coverly and, 180 years later, the writers and academics attempting to unravel the mysteries of the past. The juxtaposed plotlines explore art, science, religion, sex, love and more, eventually blurring the lines between past and present.
“The play is in many ways a mystery,” says Fox. “These characters are talking about things, writing things down and leaving clues for the people in the future to decipher. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about learning more, getting a little closer to the truth, working together and collaborating to solve a puzzle.”
The students involved in the production, too, have engaged with the work’s mystery. Cast and crew were included in a “boot camp” of special presentations about topics that Stoppard wove into the script. The Chief Horticulturalist from the city of Annapolis talked about the history of landscape architecture, Assistant Professor Heather Russell talked about Fermat’s Last Theorem and other related math items, Professor Richard Gillin talked about Byron and the Romantic poets, and Associate Professor Aaron Krochmal lent his expertise about turtles and tortoises.
According to Fox, the twelve student actors and countless design and tech assistants are “really enjoying discovering all the mysteries and fun in the play. These students are not just talented,” he continues, “they’re always hungry to do more.” The diverse cast includes students from freshmen to seniors, and a variety of majors, and the script includes some particularly great roles for women, Fox notes, adding, “It’s a great ensemble play. Everyone is helping each other understand. It’s not just one person taking the lead; it takes a village.”
This “village” comprises not only Fox and the students, but experts from outside of the College and various faculty members as well. Designer Joe Kucharski, a member of the Board of Directors of the Costume Society of America who teaches at Cedarville University in Ohio, created the wardrobe for the play, representing both modern and antiquated looks. The set designer is New-York based Steven Royal, and dialect coaching has come from D.C.-based actress and voice coach Rachel Hirshorn. Among the faculty contributions, Assistant Professor Laura Eckelman designed the lighting, while Drama Department Chair Michele Volansky serves as the play’s dramaturg. Lecturer Polly Sommerfeld has acted as the choreographer for Arcadia’s dance scenes.
“The audience is always the final ingredient,” says Fox. “Everyone is going to get something different from the production. You don’t have to know anything about history, English gardens, or physics to enjoy it. There’s a line from the play – ‘It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.’ It’s a journey of discovery, and I’m looking forward to bringing the audience on the ride.”
Arcadia will be staged Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Tickets to the production ($5 for adults; free for students with valid ID) are available in advance at Drama_Tickets@washcoll.edu, and at the door as still available.