There’s a revival production currently on Broadway of Tom Stoppard’s ARCADIA. It’s a magnificent work of art and the play will always have a special place in my heart. My beloved, in celebrating our anniversary, had the good sense and kindness to surprise me with tickets. He knew it was my very favourite play of all time and I hoped he’d love it as much as I do, and I was not disappointed.
This Broadway revival was like seeing an old beloved friend and being reminded of all the reasons why you’re friends. Filled with joy and stunning performances, this production is NOT to be missed if you like a cast full of Broadway stars, full-tilt intellectual calisthenics along with beautiful love stories, thrilling theories and the moving humor and genius of human nature. Arcadia simultaneously tells the tale of a Regency English estate and the dramas therein alongside (sometimes beautifully side-by-side) a modern set of aristocracy and academics who are plumbing the estate library for various academic purposes. The past and present entwine magically for an unraveling tale of mathematical iterations, sex and literature so brilliantly interwoven you can hardly keep up with brilliant line after brilliant line. It’s full of Stoppard’s brainy delightfulness, and in my opinion it is by far his very best piece of work. Moments where Hannah and Septimus the tutor are at the same table, modern and regency dress, perusing a book and turning pages exactly the same time, while Valentine and Thomasina, two mathematicians, work away, Val at his computer and Thomasina at her notebook, made me cry.
I feel the ghosts of the past always alongside me, every moment of the day, it’s why I’m compelled to write about the 19th century- because I feel them just as close as those characters were onstage. I want to reach out to touch them, to take their hand and tell their stories. Seeing the past and present truly dancing together… it is a perfect metaphor for what keeps me writing books. And ARCADIA was there with me from the very beginning.
I find it hard to describe how important ARCADIA is to me. I understudied the character of Hannah long ago when I was an intern at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company; the play a feature in their 2001-2002 repertoire. That previous year I’d begun the first drafts of what would become The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. Fans of the Strangely Beautiful series might smile when they see the end of ARCADIA, when a gifted tutor teaches his gifted pupil how to waltz, and see how similar moment under different circumstances plays out in Strangely Beautiful… I hope its no less moving. Watching the play countless times as an understudy, the very best of it haunted me and my own manuscript like a very helpful ghost.
If you haven’t seen the show and you’re in New York or planning a visit, please do so. If you haven’t read Arcadia, do so. It’s stunningly beautiful in every way. It searches the curious human soul, souls of all personality types, and finds love, pain and beauty there.
The character of Hannah says: “Comparing what we’re looking for misses the point. It’s wanting to know that makes us matter.”
Lines like that are meant to live forever, just as timeless as the ghosts of the past as they waltz forever through my modern heart.