From now through Oct. 13, the Santa Paula Theater Center at 125 S. Seventh St. is staging Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia, directed by Eric Stein, with sets, lights and costumes designed by Mike Carnahan, Gary Richardson and Randon Pool.
This new production will star Scott Blanchard, Elijah Boyd-Plamondon, Alex Choate, John Dantona, Rick DeLeon, Ron Flesher, Brandy Jones, Tyler McAuliffe, John McKinley, Jenna Scanlon, Natasha Schlaffer and Hayley Silvers.
The action of Arcadia is not easily summarized. It takes place, simultaneously, in 1809-12 and the present day, but in the same room of the same house — a real house, an English country manor known as Sidley Park.
In the Romantic Era parts, the action revolves around a precocious teenager named Thomasina Coverly, daughter of Lord and Lady Croom; in the present day, the central characters are two writers — one popular, the other scholarly — who come to research the house and garden for its Byronic associations (although he never appears on stage, Lord Byron is a guest at Sidley Park during some of the 1809-12 action).
Like the novels of Ayn Rand, the plays of Stoppard are veritable blizzards of ideas. In Rand's novels, the reader is generally spared the need to engage with the ideas by the relentless drive of the novelist's narrative skill. Stoppard's plays are similarly redeemed from the congestion of ideas by the uncanny brilliance of his dialogue.
We are swept along on the pure crystal stream of his wit, happy that none of this is going to be on the exam. If only conversations were as intoxicating in real life! But, that's why we go to the theater, isn't it?
Anglo-American literature has been enriched several times by writers for whom English is a second language — the most notable being Joseph Conrad, Michael Arlen, Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur Koestler. Technically, Stoppard — born Tomáš Straussler, in the Moravia region of what was then known as "Czechoslovakia" — is of their number, but Czechoslovakia was swallowed by the Third Reich when Stoppard was 2 and his Jewish parents thought it prudent to get out while the getting was good.
They went to Singapore, where they enjoyed a couple of years of relative tranquility, relieved to be out of the European madhouse. When the Japanese attacked the city, Stoppard's father, a physician, sent his wife and two sons to Australia, staying behind himself to serve as a doctor with the British defense forces.
A few months later, Dr. Straussler died — either in a Japanese prison camp or on a ship sunk with Japanese bombs. (One should not be surprised that there are conflicting reports, considering the chaos that reigned in cities like Singapore and Shanghai as the Japanese army rolled into them. Try Alistair MacLean's South by Java Head for an exciting picture of the panicked scramble for the exits.)
Stoppard, his brother and mother spent the rest of the war in Australia. They finally reached England in 1946, and soon made themselves completely at home there — especially Tom, who plunged into English culture with the passion of a religious convert. He became — and for all I know, remains — an ardent cricketeer. He proclaims himself a "conservative," although whether that means he votes Tory or is simply dedicated to preserving England's rich cultural traditions, it is difficult to say. I lean towards the latter. With the passing of Simon Gray and Harold Pinter — both in 2008 — Stoppard lays strong claim to being the greatest living British dramatist, and many critics have proclaimed Arcadia his masterpiece.
Performances of Arcadia are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $12 for children. Tickets can be reserved by calling the SPTC box office at 805.525.4645 or online by clicking here.