Universal Questions Pondered in OU Arts District Play
By Glenda Rice Collins, Published September 25, 2015
NORMAN, Okla., USA–Never underestimate the power of the precocious mind. As a central character in the provocative, Tony and Olivier Award-winning 1993 Tom Stoppard play, Arcadia, a current production of the University Theater at the University of Oklahoma, the young Thomasina Coverly (brilliantly portrayed by Calley Luman) repeatedly calls our attention to the value of seeking truth.
Arcadia performances, directed by Alissa Mortimer, continue through September 27 at the Weitzenhoffer Theatre in the OU Arts District. For tickets, please visit theatre.ou.edu. Rated PG-13.
“Question constantly,” said Albert Einstein. And of her tutor, Septimus Hodge (OU drama performance junior, Texan Thomas Stuart), Thomasina does just that, with amazing perspective and intuition for her young years, as barely a teen. Stuart and Luman bring a gentle sweetness to their character interpretations, a civility of sorts amidst theories of chaos and uncertainty.
From her own observations, Thomasina poses the questions early in her dialogue with Septimus, “What is a carnal embrace,” and “Is it the same as love.” Challenged as to his own propriety, his answers are creatively vague, or even misleading, but Thomasina is not to be put off as she soon evolves into her, seemingly unrelated discussion of such disorder as swirls of color patterns in stirred rice pudding.
Regarding both science and religion, “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter,” we hear later in the production.
Contemplating Past & Future
In what has been pondered as quite possibly the greatest play of our age, Stoppard systematically sets Arcadia in a blend of two time periods while questioning ‘what really happened at the Croom family home, Sidley Park, on April 9 and 10, 1809?’ Contrasted are the alternating 19th-century characters who carry on the study of Newtonian physics and literature while living their lives with predictable love affairs and love triangles.
“Stoppard shows the inhabitants of the same home in 1989 trying to solve the mysteries of the past,” says veteran OU dramaturg Kae Koger, Ph.D., in her program notes. “Passion for the truth drives the characters in both time periods.”
Koger heads the BFA program in dramaturgy and serves as graduate liaison for the Peggy Dow Helmerich School of Drama at OU. In 2012 she received the Provosts’ Outstanding Faculty Advising Award.
“Thomasina wants to know everything about her world, from the laws of physics to the latest dance craze. Her tutor…shares this love of learning (compelling) his pupil to solve some of the most vexing scientific and mathematical questions of their time,” notes Koger.
As to Thomasina’s ‘carnal embrace’ questions, the out-of-context, later references lead her mother to interject, with her words to Septimus, “As her tutor, you have a duty to keep her in ignorance.” Though she had previously concluded about the questionable matters at hand, “Let her stay. A lesson in folly is worth two in wisdom.”
With sharp wit and sophisticated humor, Stoppard’s fast-paced dialogue evolves for nearly three hours, full of intrigue, analyses and universal mysteries to be contemplated, then and now. Arcadia artistic director is Tom Huston Orr, director of the OU Helmerich School of Drama, and James Garner Chair.
According to A & E reporter Chloe Moores in her September 17 article for The Oklahoma Daily:
“(Tommy) Stuart read the show three times through and then once backwards to begin to tackle the intricacy of the play and the line of events, he said.”
“This is the smartest character I’ve ever played,” (Calley) Luman said. “She’s basically a genius who is figuring out stuff that isn’t developed for hundreds of years.” Luman is a drama performance senior from Yukon, Oklahoma.
In his August 8, 2013 review for The New Yorker, “Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia,’ at Twenty,” Brad Leithauser has written, “The play is, then, a sort of Dance to the Music of Time, inevitably calling up Anthony Powell’s twelve-volume novel of that name…But on my most recent trip to Arcadia,…I kept sensing a closer kinship with…Irving Berlin’s beautiful song “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”
Notable Arcadia quotes:
- “The drama at Sidley Park was about sex and literature.”
- “It’s a defect of God’s humor to direct our attention to those except those who deserve it.”
- “Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be (one) like a bluebell, and…why not a rose?”
- “Thomasina’s (hot tea) equations…It’s a diagram of heat exchange.”
- “The future is disorder. Almost everything you thought you knew was lost.”
- “…Then we will dance.”
The Kennedy Center Connection
Arcadia is an associate entrant in The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Photos by Mutz Photography, courtesy of OU University Theatre. Banner photo shows Ryan Echols, Bree Redmond, Luman and Stuart in a symbolic waltz, in attire suited to each couple’s time frame in Arcadia.
# # #Glenda Rice Collins 9-25-15