Through a kind of theatrical conjuring act, this beautiful and moving production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia brought the feelings, ideas, and spirit of an imaginary English country house to the outdoor stage in Solvang. Twin time frames allowed two exemplary intellectual clowns – Ben Abbott as the 19th century poet and cuckold Ezra Chater, and George Walker as the 20th century scholar and rake Bernard Nightingale – to whip their more self-aware companions into paroxysms of laughter and dismay. Abbott’s performance grabbed the audience by the Bozo nose and never let go. Chater’s every entrance served to cue another hilarious bout of self-sabotage and unintentional double entendres. As Nightingale, the Byron scholar with an itch for publicity, Walker channeled the antic manner of Rowan Atkinson at his peak – another brilliant example of being one’s own worst enemy.
At the heart of the play’s more serious side, we find a pair of real intellectuals, the young 19th century tutor Septimus Hodge (Luke Myers) and best-selling 20th century biographer Hannah Jarvis (Amani Dorn). These two have more in common than simply being clever – they are also compassionate mentors, Hodge to the child prodigy Thomasina Coverly (Grace Theobald), and Jarvis to Thomasina’s close relative and spiritual descendant, the young mathematician Valentine Coverly.
Throughout this long and deep script we feel the intense presence of Stoppard’s own intellect as it courses through the minds and words of his characters. Characters like Chloe Coverly (Katie Fuchs-Wackowski), Lady Croom (Polly Firestone Walker), and Gus/Augustus Coverly (Griffith Munn) provide the reactions and choral reflections that allow the audience to imagine what it might be like to live in daily proximity to genius, with all its benefits and liabilities. And finally, special notice must go to the actor who plays Plautus. His hard shell never gets in the way of his performance.