“Arcadia at A Noise Within: Stoppard play explores the conflict between Enlightenment and Romanticism,” theater review.
Arcadia, written in 1993, is Tom Stoppard’s deepest and probably his best work. The comedy is set in a country house in Derbyshire, England, at two moments, one in the early 19th century, and the other in the late 20th. Through this double time frame it explores the parallel mysteries of human nature and the order of the universe.
Septimus Hodge, played by Rafael Goldstein, is the brilliant tutor to the daughter of the house, 13-year old Thomasina, a mathematical prodigy played by Erika Soto. Together, they puzzle on the limits of Newtonian theory, whether the universe is predetermined or if other, unpredictable forces are at work to knock it off of its mathematically precise course, and how feedback between these two dimensions might work. These quandaries are mirrored in the romantic action taking place among the various denizens of the house in 1809: seductions, attractions, rendezvous, jealousies, and demanded duels—in which Septimus, and his school mate, Lord Byron, who is an unseen but ubiquitous player in the story, are enmeshed.
These in turn are set against backdrop of the grand cultural drama of the 18th and /19th centuries, the debate between between Enlightenment and Romanticism on whether reason or sentiment should guide our affairs. The debate is embodied in the proposed refashioning of the Sibley House estate grounds, done by Capability Brown in the natural style, into the fashionable Gothic picturesque style, by Mr. Richard Noakes, a landscape gardener, played by Eric Curtis Johnson.
Stoppard moves back and forth between this layer and a contemporary moment in the same house, when an historian, a mathematician, and a self-aggrandizing academic, circle around one another to try to unravel the events in the house back in 1809, and what they may have had to do with Lord Byron’s mysterious decision to quit England for a permanent exile on the Continent.
Through the collapsing of the time frames Stoppard unleashes intellectually provocative and delightfully naughty layers of aesthetic landscape theory, mathematical chaos theory, poetry, and ruminations on desire—or, as one character summarizes, sex, “the attraction that Newton left out.”
The actors are assured, ebullient, and uniformly good. The direction is subtle and economical, and the staging in a single, simple room is enlivened by excellent sound design, lighting, and original music.
Arcadia is a top-notch, high quality production, from this consistently classy company.