Some plays defy simple definitions, quite deliberately. Certainly, Tom Stoppard’s "Arcadia" falls into this category. The most basic plot description involves two time periods, mathematical theories, and a tortoise. The play celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and still offers audiences plenty to ponder while tickling their funny bone.
At Seattle Public Theatre, Kelly Kitchens tackled this tongue-twister, brainteaser from the author of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Shakespeare in Love.” In a new production at the company’s cozy Bathhouse Theatre, she directs Ingamar Christophersen, Evan Whitfield, Alyson Scadron Branner, Trevor Marston, Izabel Mar, Trick Danneker, Jocelyn Maher, Brandon Ryan, Mike Dooly, Tim Moore, Emily Goodwin, and Gianni Truzzi in this exploration of love and chaos theory.
Seattle audiences know Kitchens from her frequent work on the stage, including her roaring Kate in Seattle Shakespeare’s “Taming Of The Shrew.” She draws on that experience to inform her directing of classics and contemporary theater, as she discussed in a recent interview.
How does “Arcadia” fit into the SPT's vision of presenting conversation-worthy theater?
There are so many ideas at play in this script (the path of knowledge, the irreversibility of time, chaos theory versus determinism, Romanticism versus Classicism, mathematics, physics, thermodynamics, computer algorithms, fractals, even landscape design) that it generates deep discussions and debates with a variety of entry points and paths of their own. It was fascinating though not surprising we as a cast and design team would find ourselves around a table discussing these ideas just as the characters in the play do. My hope is also that, after the conversations and exploration of ideas, people push back from the table and take the opportunity to dance.
You've done a tremendous amount of work in Shakespeare's canon, both as an actor and a director. Does that help you navigate Stoppard's love of word play and twisty plot?
Absolutely. I think the time you spend in a world of heightened language and style--be it Shakespeare, Stoppard, or Shaw--it informs the others. And what fun and intricate worlds to play in!
Would you classify this play as comedy or tragedy?
I would call it a Witty Romance. It has the flight of comedy and the depth of drama but ultimately it is about who, or what, you love.
On the page, “Arcadia” is a chaotic script with the plot shifting between time periods. As the director, how do you keep the actors and the audience connected to the right period and aware of the unfolding connections?
Stoppard has written the play in such a way that the clues are there and we, like the character of Hannah, must work to uncover the evidence. As part of that treasure map, we are using elements of design such as costume or lighting to help ground the audience in when and where we are at any given moment. And then there are the delightful and truly beautiful moments in Scene 7 where those lines are purposefully blurred and blended by both the script and production elements to reveal our connection to and yet estrangement from the past.
So do you have a tortoise in this production as the script calls for?
I am delighted to have Duncan, a red-footed tortoise, in the dual roles of Lighting and Plautus. We have all fallen in love with him and all agree he has star quality.
“Arcadia” opens May 16 and runs through June 8 on Thursday through Sunday each week. For more information, see the SPT website.