Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia” begins in 1809, a time of changes in thinking about philosophy, social mores, mathematics and more.
The first characters we meet are in the drawing room of the Coverly Estate, Derbyshire. That the house is surrounded by lush landscaping proves to be a piece of a complicated puzzle of the intellectual set that spans the centuries and revolves around the estate and its inhabitants.
Thomassina Coverly (Carla Corvo) is a precocious 13-year-old being tutored by Septimus Hodge (Creg Sclavi). The tutor, although just 22, seems as knowledgeable about matters of the flesh as about mathematics and philosophy.
Despite that, when asked about the meaning of “carnal embrace,” by Thomassina, he crafts an intricate response that is fortuitously interrupted by the butler delivering a note from Mr. Chater (Marc Bitler).
Telling the butler he will deal with Mr. Chater after the lessons, Septimus gets back to a litany of questions about atoms and motion and such from his student.
For example, if you can stir things together, why can’t you separate those things by stirring in the opposite direction? Such questions are a characteristic of Stoppard’s work.
We meet Lady Croom (Alex Pelletier), the mistress of the estate, and Richard Noakes (Joe Farrarelli), who has plans to drastically change the estate’s landscaping. Lady Croom lets it be known that she opposes his plans.
Suddenly, it is the present day and we are in the same drawing room but with modern characters.
There have been changes to the estate in the ensuing years but that is only part of the discussion by Hannah Jarvis (Amber McNew), Chloe Coverly (Jillian Cicalese), Bernard Nightingale (Jonathan Grumert) and Gus/Lord Augustus (Brian Ritchie).
Bernard seeks information on the late Mr. Chater that will prove something for a talk he will give in London that will make him famous.
Hannah is looking for information on another character of the early 19th century at the estate and Bernard wants to work with her in regard to a book by Chater that supposedly belonged to Lord Byron, who reputedly had slept with Lady Chater, which led to a duel.
Then we head back to the 19th century and another tutoring session.
Thomassina continues to challenge her tutor even as Mr. Chater continues to be upset with the tutor for supposedly sleeping with his wife.
As the play progresses the stories become more convoluted and Thomassina’s ideas ever more complicated.
Meanwhile, in modern times, Bernard becomes all the more convinced that he has made an earthshaking discovery about Lord Byron.
Grunert’s depiction of Bernard is masterful, as is that of Bitler as Chater. Bitler in particular, seems to use his eyes and every facial muscle to enhance his characterization of Chater.
Hannah is equally compelling in her lack of conviction regarding Bernard’s discoveries.
Also appearing is Michael Judah as Capt. Brice and Valentine.
In the end, all the modern-day characters discover that while things have changed since 1804, some things are just as convoluted as ever.
To further complicate things, there is a scene that seems to blend the time periods and characters.
The cast includes 11 second-year Conservatory students directed by James Dean Palmer, with set design by Jeffrey Weber, costumes by Sofia Gonzalez, sound by Alex Pinchin, movement direction by Eliza Ladd, choreography by Amber McNew, vocal and dialect coaching by Patricia Delorey and stage management by Rachel Morris.
If you have not been to an Asolo Conservatory production, you have missed seeing actors en route to a lifetime in theater. A few may become famous, but each and every one will acquire such skills in their three years at the Conservatory that they should never lack for employment in theater.
Consider that each year just 12 students are selected from 2,000 or more applicants.
The second-year Conservatory students will present three additional productions this season: “Ghosts,” Jan. 9-20; “Reckless,” Feb. 20-March 10; and “As You Like It,” April 10-27. For tickets, call the box office at 951-351-8000 or visit: AsoloRep.org.