Tom Stoppard's Arcadia Lights Up Actor's Ensemble of Berkeley

Paul Stout as Septimus Hodge and Jerome Solberg as Captain Brice in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia directed by Robert Estes played to a packed audience, Saturday, January 21, 2012.  Written in 1993, Arcadia brilliantly intermixes sex, mathematics, romance and landscape architecture in a contemporary cosmic drama that deftly travels from today's England back to the time of the wild poet, Lord Byron, all in the pursuit of desire--desire for love, desire for fame, and a desire for simply knowing how it all turns out.  This play concerns the relationship between past and present and between order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge.  

The setting is an English country manor in 1809 and the present day.  The activities of two modern scholars and the house's current residents are juxtaposed with the lives of those who lived there 180 years earlier. 

In 1809, Tomasina Coverly (Alona Bach) the daughter of the house is a precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics well ahead of her time.  She studies with her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Paul Stout), a friend of Lord Byron, who is an unseen guest in the house. In the present, a writer and academic converge on the house: Hannah Jarvis (Jody Christian), a writer, is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds; Bernard Nightingale (Christopher Kelly) a Professor of Literature is investigating a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron.  As their investigations unfold, helped by Valentine Coverly (Aaron Lindstrom), a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the truth about what happened in Tomasina's lifetime is gradually revealed. The play's set by Jerome Solberg and Gunnar Ellam features a large table which is used by the characters in both past and present. Props are not removed when the play switches time periods, so the baby tortoise, coffee mugs, quill pens, portfolios and lap-top computers appear along side each other in a blurring of past and present.

This production at Actor's Ensemble of Berkeley is, for the most part, a fine production.  The play's direction is superb. Several of the performances are truly outstanding-both Paul Stout as Septimus and Christopher Kelly as Bernard Nightingale deserve to be singled out for their remarkable performances.  Also, Jody Christian, as Hannah Jarvis is a particular delight, alive in both intellect and body, while teasing the humor of Stoppard's dialogue.  Shifra Pride Raffel lights up the stage with her sure command and perfect comic timing as Lady Croom.  Alona Bach is a little hard to understand at first, but grows beautifully in the part, especially as she begins to feel the power of her social standing and intellect.  Al Badger as Landscape Architect Noakes, Barry Eitel as would-be poet, Chater, Jerome Solberg as Captain Brice and Matthew Surrence as Jellaby turn in polished gems in their cameo roles.  Aaron Lindstrom makes the most of his part of Valentine Coverly a "chaos" mathematician and Rachel Ferensowicz does a nice turn as Chloe Coverly, Nightingale's acolyte.  

Good as this production is, it is not perfect. For one thing, the 1st act gets underway too slowly and should be shortened and tightened up.  But for the most part, Robert Estes' Arcadia plays to the script's intellectual and farcical strengths, and in this case, keeps us fully entertained.  

Performances are held at the Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley through February 18, 2012 with Friday-Saturday performances at  8 p.m. and one Sunday matinee, February 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at

Flora Lynn Isaacson