Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance presents a thought-provoking, funny, intriguing and ultimately poignant show with its production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia.”
The show slides back and forth between events in the early 1800s and the present day, all set within the same room, at the same table. Characters from the past glide past characters from the now while props remain the same on the table of the then and now.
Essentially, the present characters are trying to solve a mystery from the lives of the 1800s characters, revolving specifically around a stay at this manor by Lord Byron. Meanwhile, a young girl from the past sends for a mathematical puzzle that speaks to the future present.
Throughout, the characters debate poetry versus mathematics, truth versus facts, and numerous other philosophical thoughts.
In preparing this production, VSU Theatre divided the directing duties between faculty member Dr. Jimmy Bickerstaff and student Dennis R. May, respectively handling the 1800s and the present. A difference in styles works because the styles of then and now differ; yet, in the concluding scene, as both ages don’t so much collide as pass by one another, as the audience is armed with what fates await those characters of the past, the Bickerstaff-May co-direction reaches a détente that some matters remain timeless.
Each character in this tale has moments to shine. The cast works well as an ensemble, but there are stand-outs.
Matthew Tito is impressive as the womanizing, quick-witted, 19th century tutor Septimus. Tito’s “Arcadia” performance stands on its own but is even more impressive when contrasting this classical period-piece performance with his brilliant contemporary turn in “Lonely, I’m Not” earlier in VSU Theatre’s season. He can play both the understated modern with the overstated classic with believable authenticity.
Jenna DeBlasio is convincing as Thomasina Coverly, Septimus’ student, aging from a young girl to a young woman. She is the mathematical genius whose insight torments a future academic. DeBlasio gives a performance that is haunting for its jubilance like discovering a long-ago rose pressed in an ancient book.
Jenah Coleridge is memorable as the haughty, but needy Lady Croom. Michael J. Morgan is passionate precision as the aggravated mathematician Valentine. Tess Buis brings cold modernity to her Hannah Jarvis, the fiancee of an heir to the household. Emily Bradford’s Chloe is bubbly libido. Emmanuel Davis’ Bernard is comic bravado and bluster with a twist of righteous passion. All cast members give fine performances.
There were instances, however, with some of the performers when dialogue was spoken at too rapid a pace, where words were lost in an onslaught of voice. In a play where the majority of the action and ideas are expressed in dialogue, misunderstanding even a few words can leave gaps in the audience’s understanding of the play. However, this review was conducted during the final dress-rehearsal and this concern has likely been addressed by now during the performance run. Audiences should note there are instances of very understandable adult language.
As for other components of “Arcadia,” Esther Iverson’s costume designs quickly and beautifully distinguish the past from the present. Genna Kasun’s scenic design is utilitarian to both eras, as suitable to the 18th century as it is to the present day. Travis Hunnewell’s lighting design and Ree Seminole’s technical direction subtly merge differences and continuity between the two eras.
“Arcadia” is a different type of show: Intellectual thought-provoker, part mystery, part comedy, part tragedy. Worthy of a visit.
Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance’s “Arcadia” continues at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, Feb. 21-22; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23; 7:30 p.m., Feb. 24-26, Lab Theatre, second floor, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. More information: Call (229) 333-5973; or visit www.valdosta.edu/comarts.