Theater review

Theater review: Deep Dish's 'Arcadia' hits most of its marks

CorrespondentMarch 4, 2014 

  • Details

    What: “Arcadia” presented by Deep Dish Theater Company

    Where: Deep Dish Theater, University Mall, Chapel Hill

    When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and March 12-13 and 19-20; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and March 14-15 and 21-22; 2 p.m. Mar. 9 and 16.

    Tickets: $19-$24 ($12 Mar. 5); students, $16.

    Info: 919-968-1515 or deepdishtheater.org

Tom Stoppard’s 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 it’s to Deep Dish Theater Company’s credit that its “Arcadia” hits the mark more often than not.

Stoppard’s 1993 work is set at an English country house. One plot line in the early 1800’s 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, who’s 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 man’s 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 Stoppard’s 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 Brown’s 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 Sampieri’s laid-back mathematics researcher, Valentine; Erika Edwards’ perky Chloë, Valentine’s sister; and Will Pierson’s gawky Gus, their younger brother.

Those in the past include Ryan Brock’s quick-witted Septimus; Nicole Gabriel’s amusingly mature Thomasina; Leanne Norton Heintz’s haughty Lady Croom, Thomasina’s mother; and David Godshall’s 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.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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