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‘Arcadia’ Student Cast Explores Story That Transcends Time, Themes

The SUNY Oswego theater department's presentation of "Arcadia," a Tom Stoppard play that alternates between the early 19th century the present, will feature (at right) Nicholas Cocks as teacher and womanizer Septimus Hodge and Anna Richardson as his precocious student Thomasina Coverly; while (from left) Morgan Rae Noone as Chloe Coverly, Evan Debevec-McKenney as Bernard Nightingale and Alyssa Otoski as Hannah Jarvis inhabit the present and explore the past.

The SUNY Oswego theater department's presentation of "Arcadia," a Tom Stoppard play that alternates between the early 19th century the present, will feature (at right) Nicholas Cocks as teacher and womanizer Septimus Hodge and Anna Richardson as his precocious student Thomasina Coverly; while (from left) Morgan Rae Noone as Chloe Coverly, Evan Debevec-McKenney as Bernard Nightingale and Alyssa Otoski as Hannah Jarvis inhabit the present and explore the past.

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s theater department will open Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” on April 24 offering audiences two separate casts and their interpretation of a play with highlights of humor, moments of melancholy and thought-provoking passages.

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The SUNY Oswego theater department’s presentation of “Arcadia,” a Tom Stoppard play that alternates between the early 19th century the present, will feature (at right) Nicholas Cocks as teacher and womanizer Septimus Hodge and Anna Richardson as his precocious student Thomasina Coverly; while (from left) Morgan Rae Noone as Chloe Coverly, Evan Debevec-McKenney as Bernard Nightingale and Alyssa Otoski as Hannah Jarvis inhabit the present and explore the past.

“Arcadia,” often called the masterpiece of the Czech-born British playwright, will run at 7:30 p.m. April 24 and 25 and the following Saturday, May 2, closing with a matinee at 2 p.m. May 3.

The preview is 7:30 p.m. April 23. All performances are in Hewitt Union ballroom.

Set in Sidley Park, an English country estate in Derbyshire, the play juxtaposes the mathematical and, at times, birds-and-bees education of precocious teenager Thomasina Coverly in the early 19th century with scenes from the present, where an author and a scholar attempt to unravel mysteries that the cast of the past gradually reveals to the audience.

Director Henry Shikongo, a SUNY Oswego theater department faculty member, said his students have accepted a variety of challenges that set “Arcadia” apart, the foremost being communicating Stoppard’s sometimes nuanced themes to the audience.

“We have been thinking about the audience from the very first time we read the play,” Shikongo said. “It’s for them. When you think in that way, you automatically become more pragmatic and practical in your approach.”

Upper-class mannerisms

The director and colleagues such as Joan Willard — an adjunct instructor in theater who specializes in acting, voice and speech — have worked with the student actors on accent, diction, posture and mannerisms of the upper class in British society of the past and present.

Shikongo, whose background is in theater’s physical aspects, works on movement, character interaction and the respective roles of men and women, among other aspects.

“We see the British upper class as very refined, well-spoken, articulate,” he said. “I ask the students, ‘What if the queen were to show up right now? You should always be ready to receive the queen.'”

The young prodigy, Thomasina (Anna Richardson), craves for knowledge, cross-examining her instructor, Septimus Hodge (Nicholas Cocks) on subjects from thermodynamics to “carnal embrace,” the latter thanks to an interlude in a gazebo between Hodge and the wife of a cuckold poet, Ezra Chater (Keith Gallucci).

Richardson, a senior in theater and in broadcasting and communication, said that to convey Thomasina’s wide-eyed innocence requires her to speak a couple of octaves higher, and to portray the teenager at two different ages — 13 and 16.

“At 16, she (Thomasina) is looking to be seen more as a women,” Richardson said, while at 13 the character needs, for example, to fidget while the adults interact. Yet at both ages, Thomasina “has her own theories about things. She knows things about the world that most people, even adults, wouldn’t have known.”

Leading the cast of the present are Alyssa Otoski as Hannah Jarvis, a feminist researcher who resists male attentions; Evan Debevec-McKenney as Bernard Nightingale, who risks squandering his credibility in exchange for quick fame; and Morgan Rae Noone as Chloe Coverly, Thomasina’s counterpart in the present.

Student members of the crew and production team include assistant director Royshanna Young, stage manager Kelsey Clark, sound designer Rachael Kepler, technical director Cheyenne Bonnewell, wardrobe chief Kelci Schlierf, makeup crew chief Megan Twamley and dramaturge Nicholas Goodman.

Faculty and staff among the crew include scenic/lighting designer Ola Kraszpulska, costume designer Kitty Macey, production manager Sean Culligan, sound mentor Greg Brewster and stage management mentor Suzayn MacKenzie-Roy.

Tickets for “Arcadia” cost $15 ($7 for SUNY Oswego students) and are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu and by calling 315-312-2141.

Tickets for the April 23 preview are $5.

Parking is included in the price of a ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of Culkin Hall and the lots behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls. Patrons needing assistance should call 312-2141 in advance.