Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Live from Lake Ontario

A report from the Shaw Festival, where one of this year's featured shows is Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. (HND)
Playwright Tom Stoppard, with his heady mix of ideas and snappy dialogue, is well qualified to be deemed a contemporary Shavian. Eda Holme's production of his 1993 masterpiece, Arcadia, presented in the Studio Theater, a 176-seat space located in the Festival Theatre complex, moves crisply through its nearly three-hours stage time. The play flips between the early 1800s and the present in an English country home that was allegedly once visited by Lord Byron. In his usual fashion, Stoppard uses the Byron connection to weave a modern literary mystery story, poke fun at academics who take themselves too seriously, expound on the Chaos theory and the laws of thermodynamics, and also offer a quick history of English landscape gardening. But the true heart of this fascinating work—clearly articulated in this intimately staged production—is the passion that drives the protagonists: a passion for the pursuit of knowledge, to solve life's mysteries. The audience with the benefit of hindsight gets a God's-view of the proceedings; we learn that, ultimately, it's the pursuit and not the goal that matters. Kate Besworth gives an excellently judged performance as Thomasina, the 16-year-old mathematical prodigy who comes to a tragic end, a role that can easily become irritating and cutesy. In a charming coup de théâtre at the end, the backdrop of the set rises and the actors exit into a local arcadia: the green meadowland on the grounds of the festival theater complex that opens into the Niagara-on-the Lake commons.

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