Arts & Entertainment writers Emily Kling and Jesse Weissman discuss Ithaca College Theatre Arts’ production of Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia. Arcadia played at Ithaca College’s Hoerner Theatre from April 26 to May 1 and was directed by Ithaca College professor Greg Bostwick.
Jesse Weissman: Before we start discussing the play itself, I want to note just how nice the Main Stage Theatre at Ithaca College is! It is a pretty impressive venue and feels like a real Broadway theatre.
Emily Kling: Agreed! Going to I.C. for a play should definitely be added to the “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do” list.
J.W.: I agree. Let’s get to the topic at hand: I.C.’s production of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. The reason I think we wanted to do this as a joint review is because Arcadia is one of your favorite plays, and I had never seen it before. So we can discuss how the production fared for someone like me, especially considering the plot and dialogue are pretty complex, and how it fared for an Arcadia expert like you.
E.K.: I wouldn’t call myself an expert at all but I see your point. Perhaps fittingly, duality is central to Arcadia, which takes place in an English country house during the years 1809 and 1812, and 1993. In the latter year, the house’s current residents are modern scholars who are researching the people who lived there in the earlier period. And the play is concerned with this tension between past and present among other themes.
J.W.: Yes, I think the relationship between the past and the present is the most important and strongest aspects of the play. One of the more interesting parts of this relationship, I thought, was how the modern scholars were getting all the details wrong about the past even though they were doing painstaking research. It really drove home the idea that it is in many ways impossible to know the past.
E.K.: It’s especially interesting in the context of being students at college. Stoppard seems to be attacking academics, making the point that searching for an understanding of the past will almost always land you with incorrect information. It reminded me of how in some historical readings, authors will indicate emotions where they probably have no way of knowing for certain. I think we usually don’t mind, and it can often make readings more interesting, but this play really makes you question the validity of some academic research.
J.W.: At the same time, I also found the plotline a bit confusing. The characters in the 1800s speak in heavy British accents, in the dialect of that time period, and at a fast pace. So I often found it difficult to follow what was going on, and hard to understand what the academics were getting wrong about the past.
E.K.: I think that’s fair. It is such a wordy play, perhaps Stoppard’s wordiest. So I think it can be hard on both the actors and the audience. And there are so many moving parts — I wasn’t surprised to see audience members checking Wikipedia during intermission. That being said, I thought two of the play’s protagonists in particular, Hannah (Lilly Waldron) and Thomasina (Sandrinne Edstrom), were entirely clear in their speech.
J.W.: Oh, absolutely. That isn’t a knock on the actors. They delivered the dialogue as well as they could. And I’m glad you brought up the acting, because it’s fantastic here. The sheer number of complicated lines that have to be memorized for this play is overwhelming, and all the actors gave each line its own individual nuance. I really understand now why the drama department at Ithaca College is so famous. I was especially impressed by Justin Albinder, who played the more science-oriented academic in the present, Valentine. A lot of the time the role of the “scientist” can often be cliched and make the character logical and socially awkward to a fault, but Albinder gave the character a lot of heart and complexity.
E.K.: Albinder was great! He really did a good job showing how these academics go back and forth between passion and frustration. I think part of why I have always loved Arcadia so much is that it really makes scientific thought and theory accessible for an unscientific audience. By combining scientific inquiry with philosophy, Stoppard makes a powerful impact on the audience. In the beginning of the show, Thomasina talks about how if you stir jam in rice pudding, it can’t be un-stirred. She seems interested in this phenomenon from a scientific perspective, but it also relates to the idea that what we do cannot be undone and the world will always continue to mix more and more. It’s a pretty moving part of the play. I think you’re right, that it was hard to follow, but I feel that the play really had a strong impact by the end. You could feel it in the audience.
J.W.: I definitely agree with everything you said. While the first half of the play makes a new viewer put in a lot of mental legwork, it really pays off in the end. Even though this isn’t my favorite play, seeing the past and present come together at the end, when they had been separated before, worked like gangbusters.
E.K.: I’m glad you feel that way! I know it can be a bit exhausting, and it isn’t exactly short (clocking in at just under three hours), but I think this play is really powerful. And I feel that Ithaca College did it justice.
Emily Kling is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jesse Weissman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.