Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” – The Broadway Revival

Yesterday I attended the matinee performance of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  This is presented as an ensemble production (no names above the title), and this is an ensemble that performs together very well. 

Particular standouts are Billy Crudup as the crude literature professor, Bernard Nightingale, Tom Riley as the early 19th century tutor, Septimus Hodge, and Lia Williams as the botanical scholar Hannah Jarvis.  Raul Esparza as the modern scion of the Coverly family has somewhat less to do but does it very well.  Rounding out a fine cast are Bel Powley as the precocious teenager, Thomasina Coverly, Edward James Hyland as the Coverlys' butler, David Turner as poet-botanist Ezra Chater, Byron Jennings as Richard Noakes, Margaret Colin as Lady Croom (who has a particularly effective scene with Septimus Hodge in the second act), Grace Gummer as Chloe Coverly, and Noah Robbins in the dual roles of 19th century Augustus Coverly and modern Gus Coverly, the "younger brother."  For the key role of Captain Brice, the performance I attended featured the understudy, Ray Virta, who did a fine job.

I attended the original Lincoln Center theater production back in the early 1990s, and was fascinated by the play at that time, finding it a challenging listen but always entertaining.  This time around I felt that the tone seemed different.  The characters seemed generally more assertive, more raised voices – even shouting – and a less sumptuous set posed less distraction from the language of the play.  Indeed, it didn't seem quite so intricate as it had at the earlier presentation, although I'm not aware that Stoppard made any changes in the script.  Perhaps the different effect was due to the setting and the theater itself, a more resonant space than the prior Lincoln Center setting.  If there was amplification, it was very discreet; although I was using opera glasses from time to time (Row A in the mezzanine) I didn't catch any glimpses of those head mics that have become common on Broadway, so perhaps the raised voices were a practical concession to the situation.  There were complaints from folks around me about difficulties in hearing and understanding the text, and I had some of that myself.  It flows from a naturalistic production without significant amplification.  (My theater-going companion obtained a headset in the lounge during intermission and expressed satisfaction at having an easier time of following the dialogue in the second act.)

Overall I found it an enjoyable afternoon and would recommend the show, which needs support – the mezzanine had more empty than filled seats, and I suspect it is not drawing adequately to sustain a long run, despite the two Tony nominations (Best Revival and Crudup as best actor in a featured role).  That means discounts are available on-line….

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