Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Artful ARCADIA By Beverly Creasey

I’m an unabashed Tom Stoppard fan. I love the mind play and the word games …or is it the word play and the mind games! Either way suffices. If you’ve never experienced a topsy-turvy Stoppard script, Bad Habit Productions’ ARCADIA is the one to see (@ BCA through Aug. 28th). The Bad Habit folks make the complicated absorbable, the complex illuminated, and the humor utterly delightful. (I’ve seen a number of “noisy,” over stylized productions of ARCADIA but Bad Habit plays it just right.)

If you have seen ARCADIA before, you’ll be surprised by BH’s luminous, up close and personal production (in any seat you’re at most three rows away from the action). See it for the dynamic young cast and see it for Alycia Sacco’s brilliant turn as the little girl with the insatiable thirst for knowledge. She’s the precocious 13 year old tutored by a handsome scholar (Greg Nussen) who, it turns out, is augmenting his scholastic duties by showing the women of the estate a thing or two. A. Nora Long is delicious as the haughty Lady Croom, an aristocrat with an eye for the latest trends… not to mention her daughter’s tutor.

When the story shifts from the 1880s to the present, Lady Croom’s descendants play host to a number of demanding historians there to research the estate. John Geoffrion is hilarious as a pompous know-it-all obsessed with Lord Byron. Sarah Bedard is his intellectual match as the authoress he dismisses at his peril. When the timelines converge, it seems fitting, not the least awkward, thanks to director Daniel Morris’ deft touch.

Stoppard creates a maze of ideas about philosophy and science, romance and intellect, whim and determinism but Morris’ production works these ideas into your frontal lobe without you even noticing. (His nifty one-set concept keeps the through line speeding along. It’s the fastest ARCADIA I’ve seen.)

Like Voltaire, Stoppard satirizes Leibniz’s famous optimistic assertion about “the best of all possible worlds.” Morris boldly places the satire center stage with two fleeting comic characters whose existence will prove vital in unraveling a mystery in the present day story. (Stoppard adores minor characters who take on major importance.) It’s a masterful stroke to make the characters so indelible in our minds that it makes the key to the mystery all the more satisfying.

Glen Moore and David Lutheran are marvelously absurd as the two buffoons, right up to their eyebrows! Moore raises his in a huff, forming the apex of a pyramid which exactly mirrors his oversized mustache. Lutheran’s eyebrows seem to tumble inward toward his nose when stricken with a fit of jealousy (His wife in the boathouse with the tutor.) What makes Stoppard’s work unique is this juxtaposition of high art and low comedy.

The entire cast is up to the task, with fine work too, from Arthur Waldstein as the omniscient butler, from Rebbekah Vera Romero as the flirtatious sister of both math wizard Nick Chris and the silent Luke Murtha (as the current aristocrats) and from Chris Larson as the 19th century landscape designer so taken with Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Just one small complaint: There would be no CANDIDE, no ARCADIA (not to mention any calculus) without Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The mathematician/philosopher referenced by Stoppard is pronounced with a long “i” as in “library.” When pronounced with a long “e” as in “leaf,” one might think the gent was that crony of Karl Marx some two hundred years later. But for that tiny flaw, the BH production would be perfection.