Seattle Public Theater closes out its mainstage season with one of Tom Stoppard’s most beloved plays, Arcadia, a century-hopping examination of love, literature, language and life itself. It’s a work that’s both effortlessly playful and deceptively meaningful, although SPT’s highly enjoyable production tends to lean more heavily on the playful side of things.
That choice is evident in a number of the performances, from Brandon Ryan’s obliviously pretentious poet Ezra Chater and Emily Goodwin’s perpetually taken aback Lady Croom in the early-19th-century scenes to Evan Whitfield’s blustering academic Bernard Nightingale in the present-day scenes. All of these performances work as self-contained elements, but their broad tack undercuts Stoppard’s intricate dialogue just a bit.
There are many things to admire about Stoppard’s script, but one of its chief pleasures is the way he carefully constructs echoes between the 19th-century events in an English country house and the scholars trying to piece together the past inside the same house 200 years later. This is a prime opportunity for overwritten, overwrought faux-deep “connections” meant to make the audience feel smarter than the characters, but Stoppard resists obvious parallels, and just when it seems like one might be a step ahead of what’s onstage, he gently subverts expectations. Are we watching an intellectual exercise, a subdued farce or a deeply felt rumination on the meaning of life? Yes, all at once.
The best performances in SPT’s production contain as many multitudes as the material, including Trevor Young Marston as Septimus Hodge, a tutor whose intellectual curiosity keeps getting derailed by his carnal urges, and Alyson Scadron Branner as Hannah Jarvis, a present-day historian whose resistance to human connection might have something to do with her scholarly pursuits.
Also notable is young Izabel Mar as Thomasina Coverly, a 13-year-old with hypotheses about chaos theory and thermodynamics that are way ahead of their time. Mar’s bright, articulate turn almost feels too polished at times, but there’s no denying her preternaturally charming poise.
Director Kelly Kitchens does a remarkable job keeping the play’s expansive feel intact in SPT’s small Bathhouse space, and the action ping-pongs across centuries as gracefully as it must have in Stoppard’s imagination.
Arcadia runs through June 8. Tickets are available for purchase online.