Freshman show mixes past and present

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Photo by Stephanie Addenbrooke.

Spanning two time periods and touching on disciplines including history, philosophy and mathematics, “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard — this year’s freshman show — will premiere on Thursday at the Iseman Theater.

Members of the production team interviewed said they chose Stoppard’s play partly because of its delicate mix of comedic and philosophical elements. The show’s director Zach Elkind ’17 called the piece, written by Stoppard in 1993, “a beast of a play,” adding that he thinks the play’s complexity renders it challenging to interpret and stage. Elkind and producer Alison Mosier-Mills ’17 said they decided to propose the play to the Dramat when both realized it was their favorite work while working on another show last fall.

The play takes place in both the modern day and the 19th century in the same manor, with scenes switching between the two time periods. The modern characters attempt to discover the history of the manor’s past inhabitants, who have made important discoveries in science and math but met mysterious ends.

“It’s the same space with some of the same props in two different time periods,” said Eliza Hopkins ’17, who plays the 19th-century character Thomasina Coverly. “In one scene, [the character] Valentine will be using a Macbook Air and in the next scene, I’ll be writing with a pen and ink.”

Hopkins explained that she thinks staging the play has been a challenging experience because of its intellectual content, adding that the production demands the cast and crew to fully dedicate themselves to understanding the work.

Though the play is philosophical, both Elkind and Hopkins said that there are many funny parts of the play that audiences should watch out for.

“It is fundamentally a comedy and even though there are a lot of bittersweet moments, it’s a really funny show,” Elkind said.

Hopkins agreed that the humor of the play is easy to miss, noting that audience members need to play close attention to the performance to notice the quick jokes exchanged between characters.

Though productions of “Arcadia” usually involve a large, walled set depicting the manor, the director and producer said, the set of the freshman production is more minimalistic, using only doors and windows to suggest the contours of the manor. Elkind said the point of the simple set is to encourage audience members to imagine what is not explicitly shown on the stage.

Elkind emphasized that directing the play has been a learning experience for him, adding that the play’s intellectual density can facilitate new revelations for both cast and audience members.

“This is a play that has so much there that you know from the beginning you won’t understand everything about the show,” Elkind said. “Every time I watch a run or do a scene, I get something new about it.”

Last year’s freshman show was Moisés Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project.”

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