NEW PALTZ — In “Arcadia,” a play by Tom Stoppard that opens November 9th at SUNY New Paltz, philosophy, science, literature – peppered with the unpredictability of sexual attraction – are woven into both a love story and a mystery. This wonderfully inventive play is presented by the Department of Theatre Arts in Parker Theatre and runs through November 19th.
In the garden of a very large country house in Derbyshire, England, stories from two different centuries unfold simultaneously. In the first story, set in 1809, a brilliant 13-year-old named Thomasina Coverly is searching for the proof of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that the universe is gradually becoming more, not less, chaotic. Meanwhile in the garden, her mother is pursuing Lord Byron, a guest at their estate; Thomasina’s tutor is pursuing the wife of another visiting poet; and landscape gardeners are wreaking havoc upon her mother’s manicured garden by creating a natural, if more chaotic, environment.
The real surprise comes when the early 19th -century scene is invaded by 20th -century characters. In the interwoven story, Hannah Jarvis, an author of gardening books, and Bernard Nightingale, a self-absorbed professor of 19th century English literature attempt to piece together exactly what happened at the estate nearly 200 years before. Although they are there for purposes of research, they, too, become entwined in the mysteries of chaos and attraction.
Playwright Tom Stoppard is the prolific author of such successful plays as “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” “Travesties,” “The Real Thing,” and the screenplays to “Brazil,” and “Shakespeare in Love,” among many others. His plays are uniformly recognized as engaging and overflowing with ideas, and all are dished up with enormous wit. Puns, allusion, and word play of all kinds keep audiences alert and amused.
Kate Ingram, Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts directs the production. Ingram was drawn to the play for many reasons: “To me, there is something profound, even mystical about the purity of numbers and the fact that mathematical principles link the structure of the smallest atom to the planets in the galaxy. The size and scope of the scientific ideas in this play are huge, but I’ve chosen to direct the play in our smaller, thrust-stage theatre so that the audience will not be distanced from the very real human behavior that is the heart of the play,” Ingram is working closely with the “Arcadia” actors and designers to develop an approach to the play that celebrates its many dualities; past and present, Classicism and Romanticism, science and art, mind and heart.
The SUNY New Paltz Theatre Department tradition of Friday Night Forum will be presented on November 10 and 17. At these free events, invited speakers discuss aspects of the play that further illuminate the production for the audience. Friday Night Forum begins at 7:00 p.m. in the theatre. The guest speaker at both “Arcadia” forums is Professor Donald Walker, from the Department of Physics. His presentation is titled “Natural Philosophy: The Themes of Arcadia.” Following these performances, audience members are invited to remain in the theatre for a Q&A with the cast and director.
The SUNY New Paltz production of “Arcadia” is performed November 9-12 and 16-19 with Thursday through Saturday performances at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $12, $10 for seniors and students. They may be purchased by phone at 257-3880, or in person at the McKenna Theatre box office, Monday through Friday, 10am – 4pm, beginning October 26. On performance nights, the box office opens one hour prior to curtain in Parker Theatre. Parker Theatre is wheelchair-accessible, please inform the box office of your accessibility requirements when ordering tickets.
Photographs of “Arcadia” are available on the internet. Visit the following web page: www.newpaltz.edu/news/images/arcadia.html