REVIEW: PENDRAGON THEATRE’S ARCADIA SHINES!

Clare Paulson as Thomasina Coverly
and Miles River Willow as Septimus Hodge
in Arcadia
Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans—every thing in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.”
 ~Charles Babbage, 1833

What: Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, is a conundrum set in two time periods where the past and future collide when scholars at an old English estate try to prove theories by piecing together the past. 
Where: Pendragon Theatre, 15 Brandy Brook Ave, Saranac Lake, 518-891-1854, 
Advanced tickets price: $30/adult, $25/senior, $15/student with ID, $20/matinee
At Door ticket price: $35/adult/senior, $25/student, $20/matinee
When: Saranac Lake: August 26,27 28 at 8 pm

Tyler Nye as Valentine Coverly and
Shamus Hunter McCarty
as Bernard Nightingale in Arcadia
(Saranac Lake) There are only three chances left to see Pendragon Theatre’s performance of Arcadia and it shouldn’t be missed. This high-energy comic drama by playwright Tom Stoppard mixes truth with consequence through two parallel stories told generations apart. 

Directed by Kimberley Bouchard, Arcadia is so smoothly acted that the audience feels like they are dropped into an English garden to eavesdrop on the trials and tribulations of English scholars and aristocracy. Bouchard’s faith in her cast allows them to keep the momentum burning and never break stride throughout.

The quick-witted, complex piece had us huddled together at times pondering a line or situation to laughing in our seats. Arcardia is neither complete mystery, though there are mysterious elements; nor a love story, though there is love to ponder.

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard at Pendragon Theatre until August 28
Set in 1809, 1812 and 2009, brings to the forefront the effort of researching the past when books, letters and journals are the only means of collecting proof.  Even though today information is an Internet search away; there are always questions and missing information. Though the process is so different, the search for truth and the thrill of discovery is the same. Also the consequence for jumping to conclusions is a lesson well learned. 

The play opens in 1809 with Thomasina Coverly (Clare Paulson) asking her tutor Septimus Hodge (Miles River Willow) what is “carnal knowledge.” My twelve-year-old whispered the same question in my ear. After a few giggles from her, I thought it best to leave the necessary wit to the production and save the questions for intermission. 

Paulson as Thomasina is ideal as the precocious Regency era teen that places her equally witty tutor Hodge on the spot for his tryst with a neighbor’s wife. The depth to Thomasina and her quest for knowledge is laid out in her questions. Thomasina reaches young adulthood through the production and Paulson easily maintains a youthful exuberance to balance the budding genius.   “When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor…” seeking the answer to why one can’t unstir something back to its original form. 

With glimpses into the Chaos theory, science and mathematics, there is nothing predictable about this Arcadia. Each decision and outcome is altered, as Thomasina learns, by free will. Her primer sets everything in motion, but to what end?
T
Cindy Spitko as Hannah Jarvis, Silas Swanson as Gus/August Coverly
and Cassidy Dermott as Chloe Coverly in Arcadia
he presentation of the different centuries are layered so that the audience is privy to the secret happenings in 1809 while the 20
th century couples search through drawings and journals to answer questions about the past. 

Willow dominates the stage as the charming tutor. He switches with ease from haughty intellectual to unrequited love.  This ensemble is cleverly cast as each character adds brilliant sparks to the other’s flame. Brenden Gotham plays the cuckolded husband/neighbor and resident poet Ezra Chater with flair. Leslie Dame plays Lady Croom as the tyrant of Sidney Park with haughty high notes and imposing gestures. She encourages her daughter’s unique education at one hand, but pulls rank at every opportunity. Her brother Captain Brice (Matt Sorensen) is formidable. Sorensen gives Brice swagger as he pontificates about morals while encouraging a duel between Chater and Hodge for his own gain. Landscape architect Richard Noakes (Brandon Patterson) and Jellaby the butler (Harrison Ewing) are delightful gossips and busybodies.

Arcadia at Pendragon Theatre through August 28
Scenic designer Tijana Bjelajac uses her trademark simplistic style to create a stage that easily adapts to the 200-year time gap. The wide dining table, white columns and expansive window overlooking a garden, a lake or hermitage demonstrates how timeless an historic estate can feel.

Bonnie Brewer’s lighting flawlessly transitions between the shared set as the modern-clothed actors enter the same estate 200 years later. Now in 2009 a distant relative of Lady Croom and Thomasina sits at the same table pondering the very journals that Thomasina and her contemporaries had written in. Valentine Coverly (Tyler Nye) collects knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Nye’s Coverly is the perfect balance to the high-energy author/researcher Hannah Jarvis (Cindy Spitko). Jarvis is visiting the estate to research her next book on the Sibley Park hermit. When fellow scholar Bernard Nightingale (Shamus Hunter McCarty) infiltrates Sidley Hall with evidence that Lord Bryon was there, sparks fly.

Arcadia at Pendragon Theatre
McCarty fills the stage whether with his voice or movements, showcasing Nightingale for an arrogant fool. He shoots off his lines like bullets, but Spitko’s Jarvis deflects them at every turn. Spitko portrays Hannah fiery with intellectual passion, but with such sadness and distance from any emotion attachment. 

Cassidy Dermott plays Thomasina’s modern equivalent Chloe Coverly with such fervor while her brother the mute Gus Coverly (Silas Swanson) is the epitome of young love as he pines for Jarvis. Both are instrumental in adding missing pieces to the puzzle.   

Catherine Mason does a fantastic job with the costumes. She utilizes elements from the earlier period for the contemporary counterparts that helps draw comparisons between the characters and merges the time periods together.  The various scenes and acts time shift between generations where the truth is told as it happens, but the future generation muddles about piecing together the past. Did Bryon duel Chater? How will Thomasina’s theory redefine mathematics and science? What happens when one puts the need for fame above the quest for fact? 

There are only a few chances left to see Arcadia, August 26,27,28 at 8 pm. This brilliant production is perfect for older teens and adults. Even though Thomasina can’t complete her equation she can picture the end result. “When we have found all the meanings and lost all the mysteries, we will be alone, on an empty shore.” 

Cast/Crew:
Director: Kimberley Bouchard
Thomasina Coverly: Clare Paulson
Septimus Hodge: Miles River Willow
Jellaby: Harrison Ewing
Ezra Chater: Brenden Gotham
Richard Noakes: Brandon Patterson
Lady Croom: Leslie Dame
Captain Brice: Matt Sorensen
Hannah Jarvis: Cindy Spitko
Bernard Nightingale: Shamus Hunter McCarty
Chloe Coverly: Cassidy Dermott
Valentine Coverly: Tyler Nye
Gus /Augustus Coverly: Silas Swanson
Set Design: Tijana Bjelajac
Costume Design: Catherine Mason
Light Design/Production Stage Manager: Bonnie B. Brewer
Technical Director: Sabra Wilson, Sean Orman
Stage Manager: Catherine Bloom
Pianist: Silas Swanson

© Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities™ guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time™guidebooks have easy Adirondack family hikes, Adirondack swimming holes, Lake Placid Olympic activities, Adirondack trivia, Adirondack horseback rides, Adirondack snowshoe family trails and more. Look for the Adirondack family guidebook online or bookstores/museums/sporting good stores. Diane is currently working on the next Adirondack Family Activities™ guide.

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