Arcadia Harlen Adams Theatre Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 23-25, 7:30pm., Sunday, Oct. 26, 2pm.
I have rarely seen more young actors get more thoroughly into a variety of distinct and subtly defined roles than I did watching Monday’s dress rehearsal for this weekend’s Chico State production of Tom Stoppard’s splendid Arcadia.
Arcadia is a freewheeling, highly literate (listen for double-meanings) comedy dealing with myriad subjects: the revolutionary quality of England’s Romantic Age, the nature of time, the foolishness of academics, the anti-Newtonian revolution in science, the moral vacuousness of the modern age, and the enduring beauty of eager young people in the pursuit of knowledge and love.
The “gimmick” in Stoppard’s play involves two sets of characters—one living in the present, one living in 1809. We meet both sets in the garden of an aristocratic English mansion (gloriously designed by Marty Gilbert). The “present” characters include members of the (now rather decayed) aristocratic family that owned the mansion 200 years earlier and a couple of scholars (excellently played by Denice R. Burbach and David McCormick) who are interested in the events of 1809, when the notorious Lord Byron visited the estate and an unexplained death occurred. The 1809 characters include representatives of the earlier family, a couple of literary guests, and, most affecting, a young tutor (Rich Matley) and his student, the family’s highly precocious daughter (Ellen Wilcox).
Ultimately, it is the real people of the earlier world, not their modern dissectors, whose validity enthralls us. As they measure their intensely vital humanity against the changes of their age (rationalist thinking, rigid Newtonian science, even formal gardens are giving way to passionate intuition, nature-centered diverse science, and irregular gardens filled with twisting paths, imitation ruins and haunted grottos), these characters’ lives seem much richer than those of our more superficial, computer-dulled age.
Chico’s fine Arcadia looks to be a dense, idea-rich play, one worth every minute’s attention—from start to finish.