Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arcadia at SF State

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Fri, Dec 12 8pm
Studio Theatre, Creative Arts Building
San Francisco State University

I read Tom Stoppard's Arcadia a while back, but I had never seen it before. I was curious to see how it actually works in the theater. The action concerns modern day scholars attempting to reconstruct events that occurred 200 years earlier in an English country house once visited by Lord Byron. Scenes alternate between the 2 time periods. We see how the modern-day interpretation of historical facts must by necessity diverge from the actual events. The audience has to keep track of lots of plot details, since the biggest pay-offs come when we add knowledge from our privileged viewpoint to the scene at hand.

Stoppard further flatters us by loading up the play with heady topics like the aesthetics of the Enlightenment vs. the Romantic Era, Newtonian physics, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics & non-linear mathematics. Besides being almost too clever, it's also very funny. It's a play for nerds & about nerds.

This student production was competent & satisfying, especially considering the length & complexity of the work. There was a nice feeling of all the actors working toward the same goal. In the last scene, characters from the 2 time periods mingle without interacting. This is one of those things that on the page looks completely confusing to me. However, here it was easily comprehensible & effective. I liked Anthony Cirimele, who played Bernard Nightingale as a champion nerd. Will Hand was equally convincing as the computer geek Valentine Coverly. I liked the way he spoke. He was the one actor that made me think the play might just possibly be set in England. For some reason, they made the decision not to use accents, which I never got used to, since the diction of the text is so British.

The studio space is nice & close-up, with the audience on 3 sides of the acting area. I like seeing plays in such a small space. I sat right down in front & was nearly part of the action when Septimus Hodge & Lady Croom made love on the prop desk just inches from my seat.

The audience was an unusual mix of students & older people. An older couple across the aisle from me fell asleep frequently, & the man snored a few times. I thought for sure they would bail at the intermission, but they stayed for the whole show. Afterward, I noticed Bernard & Valentine hopping on the same late night bus as me going home.

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