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Theater Sat Jun 09 2012

Review: New Leaf Theatre's Arcadia

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia merges past and present along the most gorgeous linear arc that can be drawn between two opposite points. It is the story of the quietly sensuous collision of past and present, events that comingle with the past, waiting for the future to provide the tools that will solve the problems, and a present searching for answers that link back to the past. That's the mathematical; the more basic elements presented in Arcadia are emotions unrequited, and what seems to be an eternal search to find the formula that satiates human longing.

Director Jessica Hutchinson seamlessly guides the ensemble through precision pacing, successfully juxtaposing the events occurring at a Sidley Park country estate circa 1809 and present day.

new leaf theatre arcadia
photo by Tom McGrath

The events of 1809 center on the tutoring of 13-year-old Thomasina (Hilary Williams) by Septimus (Billy Fenderson). Septimus counts the unseen Lord Byron as a close acquaintance and current houseguest at Sidley Park, and the time between tutoring sessions is spent in friendly and ribald jousting with acquaintances Chater (Joe Zarrow) and Captain Brice (Eric Lee); unbeknownst to Chater, the unseen Mrs. Chater is Captain Brice's secret lover.

Thomasina is a mathematical genius in search of the equation. Between debates with her mother Lady Groom (Saren Nofs-Snyder) on the merits of continuing with higher education, and eloquent badgering of Septimus with questions regarding the definition and significance of "carnal embrace," Thomasina has committed to her life's campaign of finding the solution to her mathematical theories and allegories, as she fills journal after journal with solutions to come.

The present day finds Thomasina's distant relations, including Hannah (Marsha Harmon), Valentine (Pat King), Chloe (Kaitlyn Griggs) and the mute Gus (Scott Ray Merchant), unsuccessfully fending off the interchangeable charms and obnoxiousness of Bernard Nightingale (Dan Granata), who purposely hides his identity as the reviewer who gave Hannah's book on gardening a negative review. Bernard is on a mission: he believes that through his extensive and laborious research, he can prove that a great duel was fought between Lord Byron and Chater, with Byron killing Chater and Mrs. Chater running off to the West Indies with Captain Brice.

There are seven scenes which ebb and flow between the 19th century and the present day. Thomasina continues in lockstep as an adept student under Septimus; as she becomes more scholarly and her curiosity on "carnal embrace" becomes a concept she'd like to explore with her tutor, her relationship with Lady Groom becomes more adversarial. Mother and daughter debate the merits of further tutoring and their unspoken competitiveness over the affections of the tutor — neither, as it turns out, are battles that the now almost 17-year-old Thomasina could possibly win in 1809.

Bernard Nightingale may be a nuisance, but his insistence that he knows Lord Byron killed Chater at Sidley House fascinates Hannah and Valentine enough to set aside their utter revulsion for Bernard; they hear him out, and with Chloe as his randy cheerleader, the 200-year-old whodunit (if indeed, "it" was done) comes to life, moving from past to present, and the centuries with the elusiveness of desire satiated and mathematical certainties — both veiled behind the "know that it is true, just can't prove it — will have to wait for history to catch up" reality that all seekers of truth must face, no matter the calendar year.

I highly recommend Arcadia. Each member, individual and as a collective, delivers superior performances. I adored their effort, and the direction; perhaps one of the most cerebrally sensuous stage plays to be witness to. If one must get lost in time, if only for two acts, New Leaf's Arcadia fills the bill and moves the soul. The play runs through June 16 at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, 2045 N. Lincoln Park West. Tickets are $25, or $20 for seniors or $15 for students.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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