Theater - Tom Stoppard’s intelligent ARCADIA now at A Noise Within in Pasadena

By Dena Burroughs  --  September 14, 2016

Tom Stoppard’s ARCADIA is now performing at A Noise Within as the first play of the company’s 25th anniversary season. It is directed by Geoff Elliott. ARCADIA is considered one of the most significant plays by a contemporary playwright (Stoppard is 79-years-old) and is one of the best science-related works ever written, according to the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

The story takes place in Sidley Park, an English country house in Derbyshire, both in 1809 and in the present day. The activities of two modern scholars and the house’s current residents are juxtaposed with those of the people who lived there in the earlier period.  In 1809, Thomasina Coverly (Erika Soto) is a brilliant teenager with ideas about mathematics that were ahead of her time. She studies with her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Rafael Goldstein). In the present, writer Hannah Jarvis (Susan Angelo) and literature professor Bernard Nightingale (a very funny Freddy Douglas) converge in the house: she is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds; he is researching a mysterious chapter in the life of Lord Byron. As their studies unfold and eventually overlap, with the help of mathematician Valentine Coverly (Tavis Doucette), the truth about what happened in Thomasina’s time is gradually revealed.

The actors are wonderful. Douglas in particular is quite entertaining, and Soto and Goldstein’s relationship and chemistry is believable. The cast is complete with Mitchell Edmonds as Jellaby, Jeremy Rabb as Ezra Chater, Eric Curtis Johnson as Richard Noakes, Abby Craden as Lady Croom, Stephen Weingartner as Captain Brice, Jill Renner as Chloe Coverly, and Richy Storrs as both August and Gus Coverly.

There are seven scenes in the play, presented in two acts. The same set remains for all them, while the groups of actors (“past” and “present”) alternate, as do some of the props, i.e, the laptops and phones in the “present” that obviously can’t remain for the “past.” The actors in 1809 are dressed in period costumes, while those in the present wear contemporary clothing. Although the actors switch back and forth, the audience is never confused – the clothing and other obvious contrasts - such as candles vs. electricity - make the time changes easily understood.

ARCADIA is funny and clever. There is romance in it – wonderful love story lines that are based not only on physical attraction, but that happen between people who bond over ideas. There is talk of mathematics, history, poetry, and science, and with all its elements ARCADIA manages something few plays do - it makes you feel smarter!  

ARCADIA will be in repertory through Nov. 20. Tickets start at $44, available at (626) 356-3100 and online at ANoiseWithin.org. The theater is located near the corner of Foothill Blvd. and Sierra Madre Villa Ave. at 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107.

Post-performance conversations with the artists are scheduled for Friday, Sep. 30 at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. This additional programming, during which the actors explain the play, their acting process, and answer questions from the audience, is included in the cost of the ticket.

Rafael Goldstein (Septimus Hodge) and Erika Soto (Thomasina Coverly). Photo by Craig Schwartz.