Mamaí Theatre Company
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Christine McBurney
Scenic Design by Don McBride
Costume Design by Jenniver Sparano
Lighting Design by Benjamin Gantose
Sound Design by Cyrus O. Taylor
Through August 3, 2014
“Arcadia” has been cited by many critics as the finest play ever written by one of the most significant contemporary playwrights in the English language. The work is by Thomas Stoppard (a Jewish British playwright) who escaped from Czechoslovakia just prior to its Nazi occupation. It is a play that demands rapt attention by members of the audience as well as impeccable acting skills by the cast. Lucky for us, the cast of Mamaì Theatre is for the most part up to the task.
“Arcadia” combines dual time periods (which switch from scene to scene), chaos theory, sex, mathematics, hunting, Lord Byron, dueling, a hermit, estate gardening, the population biology of grouse, the second law of thermodynamics, a tortoise, a series of mysteries, comedy and more.
The play begins in 1809 with Thomasina Coverly who is the 13-year-old brilliant (but precocious) daughter of Lord and Lady Croom. She is tutored by Septimus Hodge who along with being her teacher spends his off time seducing the older females living at the estate. During a lesson, Ezra Chater (a ne'er-do-well poet and guest of the estate) enters and accuses Septimus of having an affair with his wife, Charity, (having been found and called out by the estate gardener Richard Noakes). Septimus defuses the situation (thus avoiding a duel) by heaping praise on Ezra’s newest collection of poems “The Couch of Eros” (even though he had panned Ezra’s previous volume “The Maid of Turkey”. Captain Brice (Lady Croom’s brother) enters with Noakes to discuss the new garden designs with Lady Croom.
In the second scene, it is 1993 with Hanna Jarvis (writer and friend of Chloe Coverly) who wrote a book concerning Lord Byron’s mistress, Lady Caroline Lamb, and who is researching a new book as to identity of the hermit who lived at Sidley Park where the play takes place. They are joined by Bernard Nightingale who has come to the estate to solve a mystery, “Why after staying at Sidney Park in 1809 did Lord Byron suddenly leave England for two years?” In the play’s 1809’s segment he is an unseen guest. At the same time, Valentine Coverly (Chloe’s brother and Hanna’s betrothed) is a graduate student of mathematics working on a reverse algebraic theory of population biology of the grouse in the surrounding grounds by poring over the game books from the 1800s.
Thus the questions of did Lord Byron kill Ezra in a duel, who was the hermit, what truly did happen to Ezra, how far ahead of her time was Thomasina and what happened to her and her theories and why did Lord Byron actually leave England is solved through various clues given to the audience from the past and present as each 1800s scene is acted out and the present day characters delve into their research. In the end, everything is answered but you must pay careful attention in order to solve all the various mysteries.
Part of the appeal of the play is the set. The focal point is a large dinner table located in the center of the stage in front of “French Windows” that overlook an English garden that is invisible to the audience. During the course of the play, various objects such as quill pens, books, papers, portfolios, computers, a surveying telescope, an apple, and a laptop share the space in both time periods with objects pertinent to the scene’s time period used as props. There is also the supposedly 184 year old tortoise that was a pet of the hermit and still resides at the estate (during the play…on the table…for all scenes). There is also the device where the audience is privy to information from the past (from the 1809 scenes) that the modern characters must sift through (in 1993) the various artifacts, letters and notes to discover the answers to the questions.
Meghan Grover (although a bit of a stretch as a 13 year old) does manage the enthusiasm and precociousness of a brilliant child living in the lap of estate luxury. Jason Kaufman* as Septimus Hodge brings an old world feel to his part not only in dialect but also physicality (he speaks and moves the part). Stuart Hoffman as Ezra Chater nearly crosses the line of bombasticy but manages to rein back. I had trouble figuring out Christopher M. Bohan’s* character, Bernard Nightingale. I could not tell if he was overdoing the part or deliberately going for the laughs, the same with Scott Esposito’s, Valentine Coverly, who did not give me a clear purpose to the role.
Of special note is the new treatment given to the “theater” area. A large red with white border heavy cloth has been installed above and behind the audience area in an attempt to deaden the reverberation off the high ceiling and shiny wood walls. Thus the space I had determined as “Echo Theater…Theater…Theater…Theater” is now just “Echo Theater…Theater”. This is a nice improvement and a step in the right direction. Perhaps in the future, ceiling baffles and upper wall cloth treatments could be installed to further deaden the echo effect. It also helps to get there early and claim a front row seat (dead center) as well as one of the seat cushions. The play is three hours with a ten minute intermission which is tough on the posterior in the plain wooden chairs.
Prude Alert: There is a lot of frank sexual discussion, inference and subject matter as well as profanity. If you find yourself sensitive to such talk, stay away.
Beefs and Flubs: For the most part I found the play quite superior with only a few light gaffs. Due to the “Taste of Tremont Festival” parking was at a premium which probably accounted for a small Sunday matinee audience. I would have skipped that date in order to avoid the added congestion.
Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): With the new wall treatment lining the back wall, the effect of “Echo Theater” has been greatly reduced thus giving a very adequate cast the ability to project their lines without fear of reverberation. In short it is a dramody that allows you to solve the mysteries by giving you enough clues to do so. Good Theater and Good Fun.
Meghan Grover as Thomasina Coverly, Jason Kaufman* as Septimus Hodge, Michael Sharon as Jellaby, Stuart Hoffman as Ezra Chater, James Lally as Richards Noakes, Valerie Young as Lady Croom, Joseph Milan as Captain Brice, RN, Amy Frische as Hanna Jarvis, Khaki Hermann as Chloë Coverly, Christopher M. Bohan as Bernard Nightingale, Scott Esposito as Valentine Coverly and Charles Hargrave as Gus/Augustus Coverly
Directed by Christine McBurney, Scenic Design by Don McBride, Costume Design by Jenniver Sparano and Lighting Design by Benjamin Gantose
*Actor appears courtesy of Actors Equity Association
The play will run through August 3, 2014, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 2:30 p.m. at the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Historic Tremont, 2592 West 14th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113 (The production space is Air Conditioned and ADA accessible.)
Tickets may be purchased on line at www.mamaitheatreco.org or by phone by calling (216) 382-5146
Senior (65 & Older): $18
Student (25 & Under): $10
About Mamaí Theatre Company
Mamaí Theatre Company was founded in 2010 by Bernadette Clemens, Wendy Kriss, Christine McBurney, and Derdriu Ring. Mamaí (pronounced Mah' may) is the Gaelic word for “mother.” Four working mothers, theatre artists, colleagues, and friends arrived at a place where it was time to create opportunities for themselves and their community. “Don’t wait to create” became the inspiration for Mamaí Theatre Company. Our mission is to create intelligent, relevant classical theatre that offers an artistic home for Cleveland's theatre artists, and equal opportunity for women in the professional theatre community.
Open seating with the exception of press and sponsors. Please arrive early.
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mamaitheatreco Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mamaitheatreco Bernadette Clemens, Co-Artistic Director, firstname.lastname@example.orgChristine McBurney, Co-Artistic Director, email@example.com