Theater review: 'Arcadia,' 3.5 stars
We strongly advise you to get good night’s rest, or at least drink a few cups of coffee, before attending “Arcadia.”
Over the course of three hours, Tom Stoppard’s dense but masterful drama tackles such topics as Romanticism, classical design, mathematics, natural philosophy, quantum physics, poetry, landscape gardening and sex.
While its ambitious and academic topics are sure to scare away — or possibly irritate — quite a few theatergoers, “Arcadia,” which made its New York premiere in 1993, is a thoroughly unusual and captivating play that grows richer with repeated viewings.
It juxtaposes scenes from two different time periods — the early 19th century and the present day — inside an English country house. The interplay creates a kind of literary detective story.
In 1809, Septimus Hodge works in the house as a tutor to teenage Thomasina, who comes up with radical mathematical discoveries on a daily basis. Hodge also has stoked the fury of would-be poet Ezra Chater by sleeping with his wife and mocking his writing. Also visiting at the time is the poet Lord Byron.
In the present day, author Hannah Jarvis is doing research on a mysterious hermit who once lived on the estate. Meanwhile, an academic named Bernard Nightingale, who panned Hannah’s earlier novel, wants to prove that Byron killed Chater in a duel at the house.
While David Leveaux’s elegant revival is less visually sumptuous than the original production, it captures the intelligence, passion and even the comedy behind this challenging play, which easily can become a bore if not staged with the utmost clarity.
Billy Crudup, who played Hodge in the original Broadway production, has graduated to the role of Nightingale. He is joined by an excellent ensemble cast that includes Raul Esparza, Margaret Colin, Tom Riley, Grace Gummer, Lia Williams and Noah Robbins.
If you go: “Arcadia” plays at the Barrymore Theatre through June 19. 243 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200, arcadiaonbroadway.com