Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Divine "Arcadia" Returns to Broadway

One of my all-time favorite plays -- Tom Stoppard's ravishing "Arcadia" -- is set for a first-class revival, opening at New York's Barrymore Theatre later this month. This new "Arcadia" starts previews on February 26, officially opens on March 17, and runs till June 19. Limited engagement. Fabulous play. Terrific cast. Who can resist?

"Arcadia" is a beautiful play, with two stories circling around each other, one set in the Regency period and one happening now, involving members of the same family at a posh English country estate. Stoppard spins a tale of love, truth, math, chemistry (both the scientific and the personal kind), chaos (both the scientific and personal kind), history, landscaping, hermits, Gothic novels, and the wonder of human connection, with wit and emotion stirred into the mix like a swirl of raspberry jam. His characters, like dashing tutor Septimus Hodge and his precocious student Thomasina Coverly back in 1809, or rival historians Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale in the 21st century, are engaging, warm and brilliantly rendered.

Director David Leveaux, who brought "Arcadia" to London's West End in 2009, takes the reins of this production, as well, but with a completely different (and significantly more American) cast. Billy Crudup, who played Septimus in the 1995 Lincoln Center production, will now play Nightingale, with Tom Riley as Septimus this time around. Others in the cast include Margaret Colin (Lady Croom), Bel Powley (Thomasina) and Byron Jennings (Noakes) in the past, and Raúl Esparza (Valentine Coverly), Lia Williams (Hannah) and Grace Gummer (Chloe Coverly) in the present.

If all of that isn't enough to get you to book a trip to Broadway, "Arcadia" has a Facebook page with videos and pictures of the cast and a lovely site with more information and tickets. If you need a reason to get to New York, "Arcadia" provides a very good one.


  1. A lot of times, I think that the great 20th-century plays came along before I started going to the theater, and there was never going to be a new one equal to them. And then I saw Arcadia, and what a glorious thrill... to feel myself present as a new masterpiece reveals itself to an audience. I've traveled around and seen half a dozen productions of it by now, and I already have my ticket to see this one in March.

    I would love to know a little more about the choosing of the cast -- maybe someone will talk about it eventually. What I mean is: both Billy Crudup and Raùl Esparza essentially began their careers playing Septimus -- Crudup in one of the legendary professional debuts, on Broadway, and Esparza in his early days in Chicago (he always mentions it as his favorite role ever). My suspicion is that both of them put themselves forward as soon as they learned of the revival ("I don't care what role, just let me be in it"). But that's all speculation.

    Beautiful description, Julie; I envy its eloquent concision.

  2. Thanks, Jon. "Arcadia" isn't the easiest play to describe and I didn't think I did very well.

    I wish so much I could see this production. I am very curious to see (or hear, from you!) how Billy Crudup does in the different role. (I love that he is switching, though. In the video, he said that, since there's no real interaction between 1809 and 2011, it's like two different casts. Last time, he was in the 1809 cast and this time, he's 2011. So maybe it's like a completely different play.)

    And I'm also curious to find out what Raúl Esparza's take on Valentine is, since that is a tough role and pretty different from what I've seen him do before. (Maybe a little of his role on PUSHING DAISIES?)

    And then there's Byron Jennings as Noakes... Kind of a waste of a fabulous actor, but what a bounty, to have a Byron Jennings to put in a minor role. Or perhaps I am misremembering Noakes and his importance in the play.

  3. Oh, and I love the new poster. I never did get into the one from Lincoln Center, with the waltzing people. Is it a McMullan? I think so. Still not crazy about it, though.

  4. Is McMullan the artist who does all those Lincoln Center posters that like like finger-painting? Because their Arcadia was one of those and I didn't like it either. The new one is nifty.

    I was surprised by the video interviews, because I thought the actor playing Chater had the look of a British nerd of a particular type, apparently trying to look androgynous with the styled hair and the v-neck t-shirt under a too-tight shiny suit. But he's American.

  5. Neato! I love this play from reading it! Have never seen a production, though my sister got to direct it once in a college theatre. Hey, I am available to be hired as your traveling companion to Broadway. I can carry your reviewer's paraphernalia.

  6. Yes, James McMullan is the one who does a lot of Lincoln Center posters. He is much lauded. I've liked some of his work, but not really "Arcadia."

    I thought he did the cool "South Pacific" one, too, but that's not there, so maybe I'm wrong.

    I wish I were going and you could come with me, Kathleen! Your sister should've brought you in to play Hannah or Lady Croom. I can see you doing either.

    Jon, on the issue of casting, I was also a bit puzzled at what they're going for with that Chater. I remember the original as a rather stout, buffoonish man with mutton chop whiskers. This actor seems more like a hipster doofus, so maybe that's how they've decided to play Chater here. (I just looked it up and it was Paul Giamatti in the 1995 production??? I now recall that we've talked about this and how appalling it was that I had no recollection whatsoever of it being Paul Giamatti. And now, in the interm, I've forgotten again. Maybe there was a replacement by the time I saw it? But ibdb isn't showing any replacements in its limited run, so... I guess I remembered Paul Giamatti as a stout, buffoonish man with mutton chops. How sad for me!)

  7. Kathleen, I would LOVE to get together a like-minded group and read the whole play aloud together! Wouldn't that be a blast? My problem would be whether I would choose to play Septimus, Valentine, or Bernard. Like Nick Bottom the weaver, I demand to play them all!

    I've certainly seen several of the characters played at different ages in different productions, and it always changes the vibe intriguingly. Certain ones absolutely have to be young (Thomasina, Septimus, Gus), but the others can vary more than one might think as to age and type, and still be convincing as long as they and the interaction are good.

    The one I'm actually most concerned about is Hannah (in general, I mean; I know nothing of Lia Williams); the way she's written seems clear and yet it seems to elude the actresses I've seen play her. And that includes some excellent ones: Blair Brown seemed just right in theory and yet it didn't quite come off (I heard similar things from those who'd seen Felicity Kendal in the original cast). I'm not sure why this should be.

    Thomasina can also misfire, but there the reason is more obvious: looking like a teenage girl. This actress at least seems to have that aspect licked, but so far (warning: utter irrelevance and shallowness coming) she seems not blonde enough and too big-boned. Somehow all my Thomasinas have had that wispy-English-rose look, so right for the "Jane Austen" dresses. Oh well, it'll be good for me to have another silly preconception shattered.

  8. I would come to that let's-read-Arcadia-party where you read all the roles, Jon. And I read whatever Julie tells me to read.

  9. I fear the only role acceptable for me to read is Mrs. Chater! Or perhaps I can switch genders and read Noakes or Jellaby. Or Augustus/Gus. :-)

  10. Oh Julie, I can hear you tearing up the stage as Hannah! Or Lady Croom!

    I've started rereading the play now, in odd moments at home. Falling in love all over again.

  11. You know, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility for us to have an online video conference and do a reading of the play together!

    Skype does not, as far as I know, allow more than two participants in a conference. But there are other possibilities, like ooVoo. The three of us, add at least one more guy (Steve Keen?), divvy up the parts (even changing roles as we go to allow dialogues to happen as needed) -- we could do this!!!

  12. Having finished my rereading, I have to report that it's every bit as wonderful and luminous as I recalled.

    And it was fun to imagine the roles with the "voices" of the three American stars. Billy Crudup as Bernard seems like a slam dunk (especially having seen him in The Coast of Utopia with another Stoppard offbeat role). Margaret Colin should be delightful as Lady Croom. (How fun, by the way, to recall the brief period in which she was being groomed as a TV series star, with the workplace sitcom Foley Square and the lawyer drama Leg Work [with Frances McDormand as her second in command!])

    But the idea of Raul Esparza as Valentine has been intriguing too. The colors would be all different from Robert Sean Leonard of course, but he has his own charm and charisma. Hannah refusing his "offer of marriage" would have a soupcon of what-if behind it this time, and his sister referring to his postgrad work in maths would have an extra eye-roll in it (with no need to get a job, this is how he's spending his life). I can definitely see it.

  13. I think you are WAY overestimating my abilities, Jon! But thank you just the same. I guess I feel that, while I love ARCADIA beyond belief, I also don't want to wreck it. I think I'd rather leave it to the Robert Sean Leonards and Billy Crudups and Raúl Esparzas of the world, who are much better able to make it sing the way it should.

    I am perilously close to finishing SNOBS, so I can't re-read ARCADIA just yet. But now I'm itching to!

  14. Here's a video interview with Raúl.

    Not all about Arcadia, but a little.

  15. Sorry to make 2 comments of it, but I just discovered this newer video interview with the cast: