Arcadia pulls its audience into various emotional and historical puzzles | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Arcadia pulls its audience into various emotional and historical puzzles 

The story serves as a love letter to hunger.

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Tom McGrath

Tom Stoppard's 1993 masterpiece, set in two different eras although in the same drawing room in Sidley Park, an English country estate, displays the playwright's usual polymathic love of diverse subjects. These include the second law of thermodynamics, Lord Byron, and landscape gardening, for starters. But Arcadia also serves as a love letter to hunger—for love itself, for fame, and above all, for knowledge. As one character declares, "It's wanting to know that makes us matter."

Ted Hoerl's admirable staging for Promethean Theatre Ensemble hones in on that free-range hunger like a dog in a bone shop, playing up both the intensity and absurdity of the moment-to-moment lives of the characters as they chase after answers.

In the 1809 era, mathematics prodigy Thomasina Coverly (Meghann Tabor) struggles with the term "carnal embrace," while her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Chris Woolsey), fends off the consequences of various dalliances. In the modern era, preening Byron scholar Bernard Nightingale (Scot West) chases his theory of a deadly duel fought by Byron at the estate, while fellow academic Hannah Jarvis (Cameron Feagin) digs into the identity of a mysterious 19th-century hermit who lived on the estate grounds.

There are a few stretches where the intellectual back-and-forth gets more weighty than heady. But Hoerl and his company mostly know when to go for the verbal kill shot and when to allow quieter moments to resonate, allowing the audience to put together the pieces of the emotional and historic puzzles that the characters are missing.   v

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