Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, created by Caspar David Friedrich, is a painting which exemplifies the Romantic Era. With his back to the viewer, a man looks out into the vastness, the glory and the terror of nature. Indeed, the landscape’s beauty reminds viewers of the poetic fantasy Arcadia, a pastoral paradise in Greek mythology. It’s a world-famous painting, and it’s one that has been hung all over the campus. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, the drama department spring production, opens this Thursday and is sure to be one of most thought-provoking plays performed at the University of Dallas.
Before I met with director Stefan Novinski to discuss the drama department’s spring production, I wandered around the backstage area of the Margaret Jonsson Theater. You could say that curiosity got the best of me: I wanted to know UD’s story behind the story of Arcadia. Deciding to check out the stage and its set design, I entered a lovely room in an 1809 mansion located in Derbyshire, England. The realistic, elegant set made my imagination go wild as I took in the details. The paneled walls were breath-taking, the chandeliers gorgeous, the view of the gardens mysterious. I eyed the long list of props, and I was surprised to see that folios from the nineteenth century and laptops would be on the stage at the exact same time.
As a matter of fact, two separate worlds will collide in this production, since Arcadia is the tale of two centuries that move back and forth at the charming estate owned by the Coverly family. The play opens in Sidley Park, showing how the gardens are being altered from a classical elegance to a Gothic style. As the Arcadian landscape changes, thirteen year-old Lady Thomasina Coverly and her tutor Septimus pursue studies any UD student considers part of a liberal arts education: math, poetry, free will, stories, nature, philosophy and theology, to name a few. Not only does their relationship alter and shift throughout the play, but time itself does. Subsequent scenes take place nearly 200 years later, which show the Coverly descendants and Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale, two rival academics who are researching a possible scandal about Lord Byron, the famous Romantic poet, and a guest at Sidley in 1809 (though the audience will not see him).
“These are the characters looking at artifacts of history and piecing together the events,” said director Stefan Novinski. “While searching for clues, they discover something about themselves.”
I think it’s safe to say that while we watch Arcadia, we will learn something about ourselves. “This is a play which will engender discussions late into the night for UD students. It is about human experience.”
Junior Kate Chiappe, playing Thomasina Coverly, shared similar sentiments as her director. “[Novinski] said that the reason people should see this play is the importance of ideas and how each idea presented in this play matters. Each character has some idea that they bring into a particular scene or moment in the play, and every single character matters – just like every idea matters. Of course some ideas are more prominent than others, but we attend the University of Dallas to receive a liberal arts education. We have our own majors and concentrations, but we study the Core. We study in our majors and outside of them. In Arcadia each character has their own particular area of study, but they expand their knowledge by learning about the ideas that have nothing to do with their field of study. They listen to the other ideas that characters discuss or create.”
She adds, “This play will be one that I think every student and professor at the University of Dallas will want to see again and again.”
Junior Joe Mazza, playing Septimus, found this to the be most thought-provoking show he has ever worked on. “There is a fantastic discussion between the sciences, and there are so many references to the liberal arts education.”
While many know the UD education to be composed of the great books, this Tom Stoppard play will present a different understanding of human nature to UD students. “Every topic that Stoppard hits upon fits into the human experience. The future and the past unite. There’s an understanding of humanity as a whole as both happen in front of you. The effect is mind-blowing,” said Mazza.
Novinski beautifully summarized why everyone should see Arcadia: “In this play, like at UD, the nature of truth and ideas is important, and the characters passionately defend these ideas when their vision of the world is threatened.”
Be sure to make reservations for Arcadia, a modern drama that will speak to everyone. The show will run from from Thursday, March 22 through Sunday, April 1.