Tom Stoppards plays are always wild rides, with their intriguing literary, scientific and philosophical allusions, interwoven with clever jokes and thorny puzzles. They test the limits of any theater, so its to Deep Dish Theater Companys credit that its Arcadia hits the mark more often than not.
Stoppards 1993 work is set at an English country house. One plot line in the early 1800s follows Septimus, a tutor for Thomasina, the 13-year-old daughter of the owners. Precocious Thomasina thinks outside the box, pursuing a mathematical theory about order and chaos. Septimus, meanwhile, is having amorous adventures with the wife of Ezra, a visiting poet, who challenges Septimus to a duel. Lord Byron, Septimus old schoolmate, is also visiting at that moment.
The other plot line occurs in the present. Hanna, whos written a novel about Lord Bryon, is doing research at the country house. Bernard, a snooty academic, arrives to do his own research about his theory that Lord Bryon killed the poet Ezra.
These plot points barely scratch the surface of the unsuspected connections eventually revealed among the characters. Along the way, Stoppard makes fun of academics desperate need to publish but also acknowledges mans continued thirst for knowledge and understanding. Director Paul Frellick keeps an admirably tight rein on proceedings but also allows the actors leeway to run with Stoppards many digressions and diversions.
Eric Carl takes top honors for his gloriously over-the-top Bernard, portraying his pomposity and disdain with hilarious glee. Dorothy Recasner Browns Hanna is a smart, confident foil to Bernard, their witty bickering a delight. Others in the present include the current owners of the house: Adam Sampieris laid-back mathematics researcher, Valentine; Erika Edwards perky Chloë, Valentines sister; and Will Piersons gawky Gus, their younger brother.
Those in the past include Ryan Brocks quick-witted Septimus; Nicole Gabriels amusingly mature Thomasina; Leanne Norton Heintzs haughty Lady Croom, Thomasinas mother; and David Godshalls clueless Ezra. Thom Gradisher, Doug Lally and Bill Mercer fill additional roles. Most of the actors in the past plot line have trouble enunciating the dense dialog and are not entirely comfortable in their characters.
Stoppard demands a lot from his audiences. Arcadia can be exhausting but also exhilarating for those who give in to its many wonders.