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Arcadia’ looks creatively at human nature

Christie Bolsen | Thursday, April 14, 2005

One never knows what might happen.”Arcadia,” which opened at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on April 12 and ends on April 23, sets out to demonstrate the unpredictable and chaotic nature of humanity while exploring themes of science, art, history and other disciplines. Tom Stoppard, author of the farcical play, also has Tony Award-winners among his body of work, including “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “The Real Thing” and “Travesties.” The intricate plot alternates between the years 1809, 1812 and 2005, with the characters in 2005 trying to piece together clues about what happened in 1809 on a particular weekend. According to award-winning director Jay Paul Skelton, part of the fun for the audience is when characters mistakenly judge what happened in the 19th century. Topics included in the play range from poetry to architecture to algorithms to literary scandal concerning Lord Byron, with several of these themes merged in unexpected ways.For instance, there’s one scene in which Valentine, a postgraduate mathematician, is trying to explain iterated algorithms to author and historian Hannah. In doing so, he is actually attempting to say that he is desperately in love with her, and he’s trying to make her feel close to him by revealing himself in the only way he knows how.”Tom Stoppard is very clever and very funny,” Skelton said. “We hope that we have not only portrayed the drama as compellingly as possible, but also humorously.”Skelton said much of the error of the present-day characters’ assessments of the past stems from their neglecting the random nature of people. As they sort through books, letters and other items they find in the country house’s library, cupboards and drawers, they try to put their clues together too systematically.”We’d like to predict the world with math and science,” Skelton said. “But we have to take into account the unpredictability of the passions and desires of people.”He said part of Stoppard’s appeal is his tendency to include emotions in order to ground many of the bigger esoteric ideas in his plays. The emotional aspect of how people fall in love with people they’re not supposed to, for instance, is certainly an experience that should resonate with most of the audience.Skelton said one of the most important themes is “the journey that many people believe the world is taking from order to disorder.” This theme about the disorderly conduct of human beings is one of the end results of much discussion about seemingly unrelated subjects.The multifaceted production is appropriately supported by a range of groups – The Arts and Letters and Science Honors Program, the Boehnen Fund for Excellence in the Arts, the department of physics, First Year of Studies, School of Architecture and an anonymous benefactor. The themes of “Arcadia” will also be the focus of an academic conference entitled “Arcadia at Notre Dame – Nature, Science, and Art Conference” on April 22 and 23 hosted by the McKenna Center for Continuing Education, sponsored by the College of Arts and Letters, College of Science, Graduate School and the Arts and Letters and Science Honors Program.

Arcadia will be shown Thursday through Saturday and Tuesday, April 19 through Saturday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 17 at 2:30 p.m. in the Decio Mainstage Theater. Tickets cost $8 for students, $10 for faculty, staff and seniors and $12 for the general public.