Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This weekend, April 21 and 22, Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” was performed in the Scott Amphitheater. Graced with wonderful weather, the outdoor performances, under the direction of Micaela Baranello ’07 and Nora Nussbaum ’08, were well attended and received.
“Arcadia” explores topics like literature, science, sex, and history with a tone that ranges from playful to profound. It tells the story of a girl, Thomasina Coverly, played by Katie Bates ’08, living in nineteenth century England, who is on the verge of a scientific discovery years ahead of her time, and a modern-day Professor, Bernard Nightingale, played by Dustin Trabert ’10, who is trying to trace the possibility of Lord Byron having lived on the very same Coverley estate.
The amphitheater proved the perfect location, a beautiful setting for a play in which landscape is a critical concern. The space also helped given the size of the audience; 180 people came to view the play on its first showing though folding seats had only been brought out to accommodate 100.
What truly shined in the performance was the quality of Stoppard’s writing. The dialogue was well delivered by performers who clearly not only understood but loved their parts. The play is littered with wit and ingeniously presented ideas. Trabert’s Nightingale was delightfully conceited while Marina Tempelsman ’10 played the suitably nonplussed writer, Hannah Jarvis, plagued by Trabert’s inquiries while Valentine Coverly, played by David Stifler ’08, voiced the rationalist question “why does this matter?” Mikio Akagi ’08 was the wily Septimus Hodge, whose efforts to instruct the precocious Thomasina produced hilarious effects.
Perhaps most strikingly orchestrated was the closing scene, in which all time differences collapse, playing out both the contemporary and past worlds as the characters slowly come to grips with the conclusions of Thomasina’s research. “Heat” and all of its connotations, as passion, temperature, light, is central to the play. The second law of thermodynamics, entropy, the increase of disorder, is invoked as the characters of the story question whether or not it is progress to move from the organization of a classical world into the emotional whirl of the romantic one. Thomasina and Septimus waltz on one side while Jarvis and Valentine’s brother Gus dance on the other. Center stage is a candle, a haunting reminder to the audience of what comes next, the death of Thomasina in a fire which we know through the dialogue of Jarvis in the present.
The music was a careful selection of piano pieces ranging from Bach to Chopin, waltzes to jazz, that complimented well the debate between structured classical and wilder romantic styles. Costumes, designed to reflect the period, were the work of Allison McCarthy ’09 and Marissa Roque ’10. With its blend of intellect, humor, and pure aesthetic loveliness, the play was ideal entertainment for Swatties on a hot spring day.