ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca College concludes its 2015-2016 theatre season with the production of “Arcadia,” the Olivier Award-winning drama written by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard.
According to the press release, “Arcadia” is set “in an English country house in both the early 19th century and the present day.” At the center of the play is Thomasina Coverly, a precocious math prodigy who investigates the nature of knowledge with the help of her tutor, Septimus Hodge.
Her story is juxtaposed to that of 20th-century writer Hannah Jarvis and literature professor Bernard Nightingale. As their inquiry unfolds – with the help of Valentine Coverly, a postgraduate student in mathematical biology – the truth about what happened in Thomasina’s time is gradually revealed.
According to the press release, Director Greg Bostwick was attracted to this play because of the “interconnectedness of academics and art”:
“‘Arcadia’ makes the case that science and art can both lead to the truth. Science solves mysteries, art gives them meaning in the human dimension. When it comes to uncovering or discovering the truth, intuition and inspiration sometimes count as much as calculation,” Bostwick said.
Justin Albinder, who plays the character of Valentine Coverly, warns those going to see the show for the first time not to “come expecting to understand every little fact and piece of the mystery that lies between the past and present.”
“There’s a lot, and we can’t expect you get it all. The most important thing about this show is the connection between these people, and how science, math, and the humanities are the tools they use to find relevance to the world and to each other,” Albinder said.
Albinder loved playing Valentine. He described him as “a scientist, a researcher, and a lover of knowledge”:
“He has a passion for knowledge that drives him in his endeavors, wholeheartedly, and to points of aggravation and discovery. He’s an intelligent guy, who loves the quest. He has an integrity about him that doesn’t allow him to settle for an answer that isn’t supported by concrete evidence,” he said.
In order to understand the character, Albinder had to revisit a few math and physics concepts:
“At times I felt like I was back in high school (but in a rewarding sense)! […] I essentially give a math lesson to the audience by way of explaining to another character. That may sound like the last thing an audience of theatre wants to experience, but it’s far different, and way more satisfying, than being in math class. I also get to eat an actual sandwich on stage; if that isn’t the ultimate dream of an actor, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Other members of the production team commented on the challenges of a play set in two different time periods.
“The play is set in 1809, it also jumps to 1812 as well as 1993. We chose to set it in 1993 due to the original premiere of the show, and some of the scientific references and theories. But essentially I was capturing two periods – 1809 (The Regency Era), and 1993. And although 1993 looks like today for the most part, there are still a couple of slight differences,” costume designer Anne Blazer said.
The most challenging moment for her is “when Stoppard puts both periods together in the same room.”
“There’s a scene in the play when the contemporary characters dress up in period clothing, and are in the same room as the Regency characters. This is one of the ways Stoppard moves us more towards chaos throughout the play. As the costume designer, I have to think about my colors and rules for both worlds, and how they interact together. I would definitely say that’s one of the most challenging aspects of designing this play– when the two periods collide,” she said.
According to lighting Designer Ryan McSherry “the Playwright includes a lot of information to help setting things like the time of day and especially the quality of light.”
Stoppard uses phrases like “it’s a bright sunless morning” or they enter into a “dawn-dark room carrying a lamp,” which helped McSherry approach his design for this production.
People should also expect to see some special effects. McSherry said that the “production is filled with a lot of ‘tricks’,” although he could not give too much away.
All members of the production team praised Bostwick’s direction.
“This rehearsal process has been hands down the most exciting and rewarding process I’ve ever worked on. Working with Greg Bostwick is and has been incredible. He is so passionate and gets so into the material, it’s impossible not to match that excitement when we’re in the room,” Albinder said.
People should see the play because it’s “thrilling” and “ridiculously funny” (Albinder), because it’s a story about “the passion and raw emotion shared between people” (McSherry) and because it “ties romance, science, art and literature all into one” (Blazer).
McSherry added that the production team “focused on the ‘law that newton left out’ – sexual attraction. Essentially love is what Newton forgot about, that is what keeps the universe warm.”
Albinder thinks that the audience will leave the theatre with more questions.
“We as human beings all seek some kind of knowledge, on varying levels. We ask questions. And those questions beget more questions. It’s what keeps us moving forward. In this show, you get to see people actively seek knowledge, desperately, and ask those questions […] You watch the past and present unfold together, history repeating itself and resurfacing, creating new out of old,” he said.
Hurry up to book tickets, because the show is only one weekend! Performances will be at the Hoerner Theatre in Dillingham Center on April 28, 29 and 30 at 8 p.m., as well as 2 p.m. matinees on April 30 and May 1.
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