Produced by: Pear Avenue Theatre
Featuring: Monica Ammerman, Robert Sean Campbell, Monica Cappuccini, Betsy Kruse Craig, Brian Flegel, Dan Kapler, Charles Mc Keithan, Nicolae Muntean, Jason Pollak, Roneet Aliza Rahamim, Michael Rhone and Diane Tasca
Directed by: Jeanie K. Smith
When: June 19 through July 12, 2015
Where: Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K, Mountain View, California
Tickets: $10-$35 (discounts available). Call 650-254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org
Chatting with an actor pal recently, she mentioned how she thought maybe the usual Broadway production practice works better in some ways, because it gives the cast more time in previews to work in front of audiences.
A nationally accomplished actor, she said it usually takes a cast maybe a week and a half in front of audiences to really get in the zone, and enjoy being their characters. More time for some actors, less for others.
But the truth of regional theater is that there is seldom time or money for weeks of previews. Casts might get a few weeks of rehearsal behind closed doors or sometimes less and maybe only one to three previews, then BAM! It's opening night!
Sometimes it works anyway, sometimes it doesn't.
"Arcadia" at The Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View offers a collection of very good actors who hadn't quite gelled yet as a cast as of opening night, although the indications were there that they would reach that point the zone very soon. With director Jeanie K. Smith pushing them, it is likely they will succeed.
Acting for plays has a lot in common with live music. Everybody has to be in the same key, and absolutely they have to be working from the same melody line, to get their timing right.
On opening night, Friday, June 19, 2015, this cast hadn't quite reached that level as a whole, with some actors still hesitating on lines, or rushing lines that needed a pause. That keeps the audience from fully engaging with the play.
And "Arcadia," believed by many to be Tom Stoppard's greatest play, is quite the elegant symphony, and needs a tightly tuned performance. Happily, it is a play that rewards multiple viewing, or reading and then viewing, so going back to see it again is a good idea for multiple reasons.
"Arcadia" takes place in the same place Sidley Park, a large country house in England in two different times the early 1800s and present time. In each era there are members of the landed aristocracy, and members of the intelligentsia of each time.
It is Stoppard playing with ideas of the permanence of knowledge. "Am I the first to think of this?" more than one character says, usually only to hear the word "No."
But maybe the precocious and intelligent teen, Thomasina, in 1809, is the first to dream up a certain iterated algorithm, in her effort to produce an equation that would create a drawing of a leaf.
In modern times, one of her descendants, the mathematician Valentine Coverly, discovers her papers, and runs it through a computer to perform the algorithm more fully than Thomasina could have done with paper and ink, and recognizes her genius.
Another key idea of the play is the lure of fame for creative people and researchers alike, as in the 1800s a hack poet is outraged when he learns he has been cuckolded by Thomasina's tutor, Septimus Hodge, but is mollified when Hodge praises his book of doggerel and promises a good review in a publication. In modern times, a university don, Bernard Nightingale, rushes a theory about Lord Byron at Sidley Park to the public on too little evidence.
Sexual dalliances, and even love, also have parts to play in Stoppard's creation, as does humor. There are many laughs available in this subtle yet complex mix of comedy and tragedy.
Among several very good actors in this cast is Robert Sean Campbell, who plays Septimus Hodge, tutor to the teenager and seducer of the grown women. We could see Septimus thinking, playing his chess game several moves ahead but it is always Septimus we see, not Mr. Campbell. A fine performance, even on opening night.
Monica Ammerman as Thomasina, the teenage student, was almost always in character, although she had moments of off-timing. Lovely to watch her precocious thinking and deep emotionalism. Ammerman was obviously invested in Thomasina.
Dan Kapler was powerful and completely watchable as Bernard Nightingale, the modern historian. Of course, carrying lines that must be shouted can only be done with full-blast aggressiveness. He delivered.
Betsy Kruse Craig as Hannah Jarvis, the other modern historian, was fun to watch as always she was delightful as Morticia in "The Addams Family" recently at Palo Alto Players and was very funny at times, but on opening night hadn't quite gotten into rhythm with the actors around her.
Pear founder and producer of this play Diane Tasca was Lady Croom in the early 1800s wore Lady Croom's regal bearing as a costume, rather than living it with soul.
Michael Rhone, a very good performer whose work I have often enjoyed in various musicals, was a good Valentine Coverly in modern times, although he wasn't quite living the part yet, but still performing it. He's devoted to theater, Mr. Rhone is, and I am sure he will get to the zone quite soon.
It was fun to watch the tall and beautiful Kruse Craig next to the much shorter but beautiful Roneer Aliza Hahamim as Chloe Coverly, who in modern times wants to be the first to think of something, and who has romantic schemes in mind. Charles McKeithan was a fine Captain Brice. Jason Pollak, a student at Palo Alto High School, was a bit uneven as Gus and Augustus (different time zones), but was fun to watch. He reminds a bit of Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl on "The Walking Dead."
Nicolae Muntean was solid as Jellaby and Richard Noakes a fun fact: He was in the first production at The Pear, in 2002, "Mrs. Warren's Profession," and "Arcadia" will be the last production in this space, before moving to a large space a few blocks away. Brian Flegel was fun to watch as the cuckolded hack poet who is willing to forgive his wife's lover for the sake of a good review. The mighty Monica Cappuccini is understudy for the Lady Croom part, and will play the role on July 1, 2, 3 and 5.
Janny Cote designed the perfectly fine set, which thanks to Stoppard does not change from the 1800s to modern times. One of Stoppard's clever bits of theatrics, in fact, is that everything on the big table stays there. The gift of an apple and a bit of leaf is given in one era, for instance, but eaten in the other. Props were by Miranda Whipple.
Sound designer Gordon Smith did a fine job, among other things bringing us the noise of a very early steam engine. Ben Hemmen's lighting worked comfortably, which is what we want.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org