Widely regarded as one of Tom Stoppard’s most luxuriantly wordy and witty best, Arcadia receives a rich production at A Noise Within under the direction of Geoff Elliot. The 1993 play tells two stories that take place on a glorious English country estate that are separated by 200 years. The action takes place in the grand dining hall of Federica Nascimento’s well appointed set with towering windows that look out over the grand gardens. We open with a study session underway in the early 1800’s with the Coverly’s young and brilliant daughter, Thomasina, being tutored by the rakish Septimus Hodge. As she is busily ruminating on the potential of calculus she innocently asks her tutor the meaning of “carnal embrace”. And so begins a story of dalliances, seduction, mysterious letters, duels and longing that wind their way to the present day story wherein three academics are passionately seeking the answers to questions they have about those early inhabitants of the estate. Valentine Coverly is heir to the estate and a mathematician who is fascinated by Thomasina’s work. Novelist Hannah has come to uncover the mysteries of the garden and a hermit who once lived there while poetry professor, Bernard has become invested in figuring out exactly what happened to a writer who seemingly disappeared after visiting the estate in 1806.
Elliot’s direction moves swiftly between the two periods as the two stories race towards a collision of discovery, death and passion. The play is a dance between the past and the present, between science and romance, all in the name of exploring our humanity. Erika Soto and Rafael Goldstein have sweet chemistry as student and tutor with Soto bringing a delicious, fresh excitement to Thomasina while Goldstein slays all in his path with considerable charm and magnetism. Jeremy Rabb gives a most piquant performance as the cuckold Ezra Chater and the sensuous Abby Craden’s Lady Croom grabs you with her heaving bosom and takes you for a dizzying ride.
Susan Angelo is an intellectual Hannah whose sensuality seems to bloom back to life when the infectiously passionate Freddy Douglas bursts on the scene as scholar Bernard Nightingale. The sublime cast also including Mitchell Edmonds, Eric Curtis Johnson, Stephen Weingartner, Richy Storrs, Jill Renner and Tavis Doucette, takes on a quest to acquire knowledge that is mathematical, carnal, chaotic and full of desire….desire to learn, to uncover, to love. And to know finally that it is “the wanting to know that makes us matter.”
Arcadia runs in repertory with “The Maids” and “The Imaginary Invalid” at A Noise Within through November 20. 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena 91107-(626) 356-3100 www.noisewithin.org