Courtesy PhotoJack Cutmore-Scott and Rebekah Brockman play a 19th-century era tutor and student in American Conservatory Theater’s talky “Arcadia.”

Courtesy PhotoJack Cutmore-Scott and Rebekah Brockman play a 19th-century era tutor and student in American Conservatory Theater’s talky “Arcadia.”

ACT’s ‘Arcadia’ dazzles and dazes

“Arcadia” is a splendid Rubik’s Cube, as playwright Tom Stoppard twists its many facets with amazing sleight of hand, letting the audience put it all together — or not.

Running almost three hours and encompassing a huge variety of esoteric subjects — in two periods separated by 200 years, sometimes with characters from both eras intermingling on the same stage — “Arcadia” is not cushy entertainment.

American Conservatory Theater’s reprise production, which opened Wednesday, is yet another Stoppard presentation directed by company artistic director Carey Perloff, who has made the British playwright her specialty.

Those who attended Perloff’s 1995 West Coast premiere of “Arcadia” at the Stage Door — while the theater on Geary Street remained closed after the Loma Prieta earthquake — may be nostalgic for the smaller, more intimate venue.

On the plus side, thanks to the cast’s uniformly excellent diction, all the complex, often enigmatic text of the talky play comes through with appealing clarity on the larger stage.

Sleuthing is the lifeblood of the play, an intellectual detective story where the audience knows the facts — some, anyway — but the truth-seekers onstage don’t.

In an English country estate in 1809, a preternaturally brainy teenager, Tomasina (played with natural, believable grace by Rebekah Brockman) and her tutor, Septimus Hodge (the subtle, charismatic Jack Cutmore-Scott) are working on Fermat’s Last Theorem, proper and poetic translations of Latin classics, and rules of thermodynamics as well as playing with anachronistic thoughts about chaos theory — for starters.

Although Lord Byron never appears in the play, the 20th- century cast investigating what happened on the estate long ago are scholars vying against each other, trying to figure out what dramatic events concerning the poet might have taken place there.

Gretchen Egolf and Andy Murray play the feuding scholars. She  understates the role, and he definitely overdoes it. The don Murray plays is a mix of scholarly, if feigned, civility and boisterous rudeness, but in this production, those elements are not well-balanced.

As more subjects and riddles are added to the play — including intricacies of English garden landscaping, fractals, carnal embraces (defined by the tutor for his young student as “embracing a side of beef”), dalliances, jealousies and even death by monkey bite — the actors make strong impressions.

Of the 19th-century characters, Nicholas Belczar is notable as a cuckolded, profoundly untalented poet; Julia Coffey, as the  elegant but down-to-earth woman of the manor; and the great veteran Ken Ruta, as the unsteady butler.

In the contemporary half of the action, Allegra Rose Edwards and Adam O’Byrne are good as descendants of the original estate owners; O’Byrne delivers extensive scientific expositions with ease.

REVIEW

Arcadia

  • Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 9
  • Tickets: $20 to $95
  • Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

American Conservatory TheaterartsCarey Perloffentertainment

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Passengers ride the 14-Mission Muni bus on Friday, March 12, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Transit officials fear Free Muni pilot could hurt already-strained service levels

San Francisco supervisors could be poised to approve legislation that would allocate… Continue reading

Visitors read a notice hanging on the Polk Street entrance to City Hall on Thursday, March 26, 2020, shortly after the building was closed. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City Hall reopening to the public on June 7 after long closure due to COVID-19

San Francisco will reopen City Hall to the public on June 7… Continue reading

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) and running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrate after Mostert scores his fourth rushing touchdown in the third quarter as the 49ers take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
49ers on prime-time TV five times in 2021

Usually a team that finishes in last place and won only six… Continue reading

Many famillies have supported keeping John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park free of car traffic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Fight over future of JFK Drive heats up

Shamann Walton compares accessibilty issues to segregation, likens street closure to ‘1950s South’

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, pictured in March, is unveiling a series of budget proposals this week. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Newsom’s school plan has billions for college savings accounts, after school programs and more

Hannah Wiley The Sacramento Bee California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to send… Continue reading

Most Read