OSWEGO — The SUNY Oswego theater department will explore the fluid intersections of past and present for two weekends starting April 24 in the spring play, Tom Stoppard’s tragicomedy “Arcadia,” featuring a 19th century teenage genius and determined present day sleuths.
The Hewitt Union ballroom curtain will rise at 7:30 p.m. April 24 and 25, and May 2, with a 2 p.m. May 3, finale.
The preview is 7:30 p.m. April 23.
Directed by Oswego theater faculty member Henry Shikongo, the play, set in an English country estate in Derbyshire, runs in parallel tracks, using the same setting in two different centuries.
First, it follows the precocious, knowledge-thirsty Thomasina Coverly (Anna Richardson) and her teacher Septimus Hodge (Nicholas Cocks) in the early 19th century, then tracks a determined present-day scholar — intrigued by a hermit said to live on the estate in the earlier era — Hannah Jarvis (Alyssa Otoski) and an ambitious university professor, Bernard Nightingale (Evan Debevec-McKenney), obsessed by a theory that Lord Byron killed another poet there in a duel.
“Arcadia,” wrote a New York Times reviewer is “a witty, winning masterpiece … like its subjects — time, knowledge, love — the play is inexhaustible.”
Richardson, a sophomore dual major in theater and in broadcasting and mass communication, earned the role of Thomasina, whose prodigious knowledge and thirst for more belie her tender years.
“I love the character,” said Richardson, who plays Thomasina at ages 13 and 16. “She’s so innocent and so brilliant. I love playing a younger character, exploring how to lead with my heart.”
Shikongo said that what Thomasina exudes is “life and living as an art … you never know when your next moment may be your last.” The girl is undaunted by anything from Newtonian physics to Fermat’s theorem to iterative equations.
“She sees things and understands and intuits things that are not yet known to man,” the director said. “We see her rich imagination in motion. She sees and finds things that are very exciting.”
A separate cast for the present is led by Hannah, Nightingale, Chloe Coverly (Morgan Rae Noone) and mathematician Valentine Coverly (Jesse Lessner). After alternating scenes throughout the play, the cast from the past and present occupy the same stage in a chaotic but revealing scene.
Brad Leithauser, writing in the New Yorker, said the play “blends its disparate chemicals, creating a compound of most peculiar properties. The play’s ingredients include sexual jealousy and poetasters (inferior poets) and the Gothic school of landscape gardening and dueling and chaos theory and botany and the perennial war between Classical and Romantic aesthetics and the maturing of mathematical prodigies.”
Shikongo said interpreting Stoppard’s masterpiece required the players to do a lot of homework. He challenged the actors with questions: “What does a lord of an estate do? What is the dialect of the British upper class? How do the characters move and interact? What sorts of things were happening around that time?”
Richardson said the cast has risen to challenge. “We just worked on my character’s walk,” she said. “(The director) had me do it way over the top. He told me he’d rather tone it down from there.” She added, “The cast is really good. They all fit their roles well, I think. All of them are really fun to work with.”
Other cast members of the past include Lady Croom (Alyssa Scruton), Ezra Chater (Keith Gallucci), Richard Noakes (Spencer Ventresca), Captain Brice (Carlos Clemenz), Jellaby (Max Fehr) and and a boundary-transcending character, Augustus Coverly (Nicholas Bartusek), who also plays Gus Coverly a century and a half later.
Tickets for “Arcadia” are $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 preview on April 23 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.