`Arcadia’ brings chase for Byron to GW stage

c Sex, literature and death are the three main themes of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” which is being performed in the Marvin Center Theater by the GW Department of Theater and Dance this weekend.

Literally, arcadia means pastoral – simple and innocent – but Stoppard’s play is anything but. It is a comedy of innuendoes and intellectual one-liners, making the audience think back to the depths of English literature to keep up with the dialogue.

The pace is fast. The scenes switch between a group of intellectuals in the present trying to piece together the events that led to the English poet Lord Byron’s sudden flight from the country in 1809, and the actual characters in the 1900s. The cast does an excellent job delivering complicated dialogue and conveying the intellectual panache it deserves.

Senior Fayth Preyer plays Hannah Jarvis, a history writer investigating Byron’s flight. She has a great stage presence, which serves her well in scenes with fellow senior David Lipsitt, who plays her main competitor and colleague in the race to solve the mystery.

Of course, things are complicated by relationships throughout the play. Almost everyone is romantically involved with everyone else. Often, though the dialogue may ostensibly be about chaos theory or the deterministic universe, the real meaning is only skin deep.

“It’s a defect of God’s humor that he directs our hearts to those who do not have a right to them,” Valentine says in the play – and it is true, at least for Stoppard’s “Arcadia.”

Sophomore Janine Barris-Gerstl is a wonderful asset to the cast. She plays 16-year-old Thomasina Coverly with the innocence and brilliance attributed to her character – a child prodigy who discovers a new mathematical concept without even knowing it.

Thomasina is more interested in learning to waltz than in any acknowledgment her tutor gives her work. Her performance, combined with that of Preyer and Lipsitt, makes this play one of the best the theater and dance department has produced in the past year.

“Arcadia” has everything one could ask for in a play – a beautiful set, intricate period costumes, great acting and an engaging script. Stoppard’s dialogue makes one think. The director, Nate Garner, said he chose to do this play because it is perfect for college students.

“It is considered to be (Stoppard’s) best play, and it’s so right for a college audience because it’s got so much academic and intellectual stuff in it,” Garner said.

“Arcadia” is very different from the department’s usual minimalist and modernist fare. It is a play to which students most definitely will relate. And the audience will be impatient to see how the mystery turns out – as Hannah is when she says, “If the answers are in the back of the book, I can wait. But what a drag!””Arcadia” is playing the Marvin Center Theater Thursday, February 26 through Sunday, March 1.

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