Drama Department Stages Stoppard’s “Arcadia”
Location: Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts
CHESTERTOWN, MD—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 shared it all, with a production directed by Assistant Professor Brendon Fox. (Click here to see a photo gallery from the production.)
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 engaged deeply 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 “really enjoyed 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 included students from freshmen to seniors, and a variety of majors.
In addition to Fox and his students, other faculty members as well as experts from outside of the College contributed to the production. 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 was New-York based Steven Royal, and dialect coaching came 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 served as the play’s dramaturg and lecturer Polly Sommerfeld choreographed the dance scenes.
“The audience is always the final ingredient,” Fox commented prior to the weekend production. “Everyone gets 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.”
Below, sketches by costume designer Joe Kucharski.