If there was one reason to visit, or revisit Arcadia, it would have to be forgen the comic braggadocio of Billy Crudup's performance as Nightingale, searcher for a new angle (or new evidence) on the Byron persona among the estate's historical minutiae. This production, in true Stoppard style, comes full circle for Crudup who starred in the 1995 Lincoln Center production as Septimus Hodge, Thomasina's genius tutor. This time around, Crudup is the modern academic who unknowingly uncovers many of Hodge's secrets. It is a great comic performance that will prove, although it is only March, to be one of the highlights of the New York theatre year.
Arcadia is a play made distinctive by characters who never appear on stage: the cuckolded Lord Croom; Mrs. Chater, the object of much 1809 desire; Lord Byron himself. Those who are on stage must make a considerable impact to come out of the shadows of action and words...lots of words. Tom Riley as Septimus Hodge is one of those impact performers. Impressively, making his Broadway debut, the charismatic Tom Riley is artistically impeccable. In fact, you could call him quite Bryonic. Crudup and Riley, separated in story by centuries, are two sides of the same coin. You couldn't help but wonder - what was Crudup like as Septimus (I wasn't lucky enough to see that production) and wouldn't Riley be wonderful as Nightingale? Physically alike, the two actors realize Stoppard's theories on the connections between past and present even more than seemingly possible.
Riley's timing and nuance is made even more apparent in dialogue with his young charge Thomasina. In a miscasting that threatens to weigh down the whole production at times, Bel Powley seems to young and that's saying something for a character who is 13 years old. Later when we see Thomasina on the verge of her 17th birthday, we don't see that older teenager, making emerging love scenes puzzling and little off-putting. The Ethel Barrymore is a large theatre, and Powley tries bravely to fill the space with her character's extraordinary élan, but the performance becomes shrill and more than a little relentless.
Margaret Colin too is little served cast as Lady Croom. The warm and agreeable actress is unrecognizable as the dowager to be, stiff and pretentious. Grace Gummer as Chloe seems to be all tousled blond hair and running legs. Indeed, the only actress that profits from David Leveaux's direction is the dynamic Lia Williams. Hannah Jarvis, Nightingale's academic rival and predecessor at the Coverly treasure hold. With "If Byron killed Chater, I'm Marie of Romania," Jarvis deflates Nightingale's research expectations and at the same time, enhances the clever debate between the two scholars that is a highlight of Arcadia: "Don't let Bernard get to you. It's only performance art, you know. Rhetoric, they used to teach it in ancient times, like PT. It's not about being right, they had philosophy for that. Rhetoric was their chat show. Bernard's indignation is a sort of aerobics for when he gets on television."