The Clap: Arcadia

3.30.2011

By Scott Hocker

When 2009's London revival of Tom Stoppard's sublime Arcadia opened to mostly ecstatic reviews, I closed my mouth and held my breath in anticipation that the production might find its way to New York. Well, it finally has.

To me, Arcadia is the finest work from a playwright who has written a glut of noteworthy plays. The piece binds together a seemingly preposterous array of topics: Arcadia is at once a whodunit, a time-traveling romance between the early 1800s and the present day and a treatise on chaos theory and landscape architecture. Still, in truth, it is above all else a profoundly theatrical play that is as humorous as it is smart and tender. Here, four notes of wisdom to remember when wandering the idyll that is Arcadia:

4) Brain? Check! Do not leave your grey matter at home when you head to the theater. Stoppard's literate piece tackles Lord Byron, the second law of thermodynamics and Fermat's Last Theorem with the kind of fervor Talk Soup reserves for the latest Lindsay Lohan debacle.

3) Tear Ducts? Check! Heady as Arcadia is, do not mistake the piece for a dry, snooze-inducing lecture. The clash of wills and desire at the play's core leads to downright bawdy moments, along with heart-wrenching ones. I bawled. Twice.

2) Pond-crossings. It is always a joy to watch British actors tackle plays from their homeland Stateside. This time, two of the British actors are especially fine: Lia Williams as Hannah Jarvis, the obsessive scholar tackling the plot's prime mystery and Bel Powley as Thomasina Coverly, a 19th-century child genius.

1) Born in the U.S.A. We Americans achieve quite the showing, too. Though Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) falters a bit as the fiery Chloe Coverly, Ra'l Esparza is quietly entrancing as the present-day mathematician Valentine Coverly and Margaret Colin, known mostly these days for her role as Eleanor Waldorf on Gossip Girl, is a knockout as Lady Croom, the composed Lady of the estate where all the action of the play transpires.

For more info on Arcadia, visit the show's official website.

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