kaydeefalls: theater as viewed from the wings (i live on the stage)
[personal profile] kaydeefalls
OH HEY THAT.

[livejournal.com profile] ladymercury_10 prompted: Arcadia

So, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard is my actual favorite play ever written, though I have yet to see the perfect production of it. (I've seen two different productions, one in Chicago and one in Washington, both of which were really great in some areas and glaringly weak in others, but both interesting to watch.) I'm not sure if the perfect production exists? It's kind of a difficult play to get right. But god, just reading it is magical, and I live in hope that someone somewhere will stage it just right and I'll be able to see it. I wasn't able to see either the original production or its revival on Broadway or the West End, so can't judge those.

Arcadia tells two stories at once, in the same English manor house (the Coverly estate) but in two different times. The first story is set in 1809, and follows a precocious teenage genius, Thomasina, and her tutor, Septimus, as she develops a marvelous new mathematical theory. The second is in the present day, where one literary historian, Bernard, is chasing down a potentially groundbreaking story (about Lord Byron, who may or may not have murdered a fellow poet while staying with the Coverly family in that very house), while another, Hannah, is doing research for her book about the decline of the Classical era and the dawn of the Romantic. Okay, that's a vast oversimplification of the plot, but it's a start. As Hannah uncovers more and more of the history of the house, she becomes obsessed with one figure in particular: a mad hermit, name unknown, who inhabited a shed on the grounds and was trying to use maths to foretell the end of the world. The play unfolds with scenes alternating between the past and the present -- we learn more of the 1809 story from its characters as Hannah learns more about them through her research -- and eventually, the lines between past and present start to blur, until characters from both periods are onstage at the same time, enacting their stories around one another, and it's absolutely gorgeous. I won't spoil the ending, but oh, god, it's tragic and beautiful and hopeful all at once. The playwright, Tom Stoppard, is known for being occasionally too clever for his own good, and yeah, he delves into mathematical theories and literary history to a depth that borders on the arcane, but the characters are so richly drawn that they carry it off, I think. It's funny, tragic, and philosophical by turns; and, okay, from a purely technical standpoint, I do not envy the props designer on this show, because although we never leave this one drawing room, there are roughly a million props and they're all crucial to the plot, and a book that an 1809 character carries in will be then picked up by a present-day character in the next scene until it's all one big glorious mess of stuff all over the stage. And the themes of history repeating and past echoing present and timey-wimeyness just fill me with such unadulterated joy, okay.

Plus, it gives us Hannah, whom I've already discussed in more detail, and Thomasina, that brilliant, romantic girl, and Valentine, a modern-day mathematician who has possibly one of my favorite life-affirming geektastic monologues ever:

The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is. It's how nature creates itself, on every scale, the snowflake and the snowstorm. It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing. People were talking about the end of physics. Relativity and quantum looked as if they were going to clean out the whole problem between them. A theory of everything. But they only explained the very big and the very small. The universe, the elementary particles. The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about -- clouds -- daffodils -- waterfalls -- and what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in -- these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks. We're better at predicting events at the edge of the galaxy or inside the nucleus of an atom than whether it'll rain on auntie's garden party three Sundays from now. Because the problem turns out to be different. We can't even predict the next drip from a dripping tap when it gets irregular. Each drip sets up the conditions for the next, the smallest variation blows prediction apart, and the weather is unpredictable the same way, will always be unpredictable. When you push the numbers through the computer you can see it on the screen. The future is disorder. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.


And you know what? You can read the whole play online for free. So, really, there's no excuse.

Date: 2013-12-29 12:15 am (UTC)
woldy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] woldy
I love this play too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)

Date: 2013-12-31 11:09 pm (UTC)
fiercynn: Kate Beckett [from Castle] (Kate Beckett: the love of my life?)
From: [personal profile] fiercynn
I have not actually read Arcadia since my junior year of high school, when my best friend was an assistant stage manager for a production of Travesties and as a result had me go on a huge Stoppard kick, but I do remember loving it and wishing I could see a production. I still haven't, but I should definitely reread it - I'm sure I will get different things out of it now than I did when I was a sort of pretentious teenager who loved all the parts where Stoppard is too clever for his own good!

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