This is an archived article.

April 19, 2007

Staging Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’

The UW School of Drama will present Tom Stoppard’s multiple award-winning Arcadia, directed by Tamara Fisch, April 22 through May 6 in the Playhouse Theatre.

Arcadia is especially suitable for the University campus because it examines the boundaries between art and science. It is part detective story, part love story and farce, with mathematics, literature, gardening and chaos theory thrown into the mix. It won the Olivier Award for best new play in 1994 and Drama Desk Award for best play in 1995. After its Broadway debut, The New York Times wrote, ”There’s no doubt about it. Arcadia is Tom Stoppard’s richest, most ravishing comedy to date, a play of wit, intellect, language, brio, and emotion.”

The play is set in two time periods — the early 19th century and the present, in the same room in an English estate, Sidley Park.

As the play opens in the year 1809, we meet young Thomasina Coverly, a precocious 13-year-old girl who struggles with her algebra and geometry under the watchful eye of her dashing and handsome tutor, Septimus Hodge. But Thomasina is not your typical mathematics student — she is a prodigy who not only questions the very foundations of her mathematical subjects, but also sets about to change the direction of countless centuries of mathematical thought. In the process, she invents “Thomasina’s geometry of irregular forms” (aka fractal geometry), discovers the second law of thermodynamics, and lays the foundation for what is now called chaos theory.

Almost 200 years later in the modern period, we meet contemporary mathematician Valentine Coverly, a descendant of Thomasina’s and heir to Sidley Park. Gradually, he becomes aware of some of the old mysteries surrounding his new estate, including Thomasina’s discoveries, and this sets the stage for a unique series of scenes that hop back and forth between the early 19th century and the present.

Mathematics and science play a starring role in Arcadia. Not only does it feature mathematicians as central characters, it also uses mathematics to endow everyday things — a leaf, a population of birds, clouds — with grandeur and magic. Far from being just a collection of simplistic calculating rules, mathematics can provide rich descriptions of our complex world. But the question that remains is: how far can science and mathematics alone take us in explaining what life is all about?

Tickets and information for Arcadia are available by calling 206-543-4880 and online at Tickets for previews are $8; prices for all other performances are $15 for adults; seniors, $12; UW employees, $13. Students from any school with current ID pay $10. Evening performances begin at 7:30 and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. The UW Arts Ticket Office is located at 4001 University Way NE and is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.