"Arcadia" follows three contemporary English scholars through their attempts at unravelling the mysteries surrounding Lord Byron, the prominent 19th century British literary figure, and his connections with a historical English park.
As the play progresses, the scholars discover the mathematical experiments of young Thomasina Coverly, Coverly's relationship with her tutor, Septimus Hodge, and Hodge's shadowy connections to Lord Byron.
The play's language is quick, biting and to the point, and Stoppard's intricately woven fantasy is drenched in realism. Therein lies the difficult nature of "Arcadia" -- to give the work its full due requires walking a thin line between its realism and its subtle fantasies.
Stoppard's play could have easily been a comedic disaster in the hands of amateur theater. The script, written in a distinctly British tongue with the driest humor and the most caustic wit, would have presented itself as a challenge for the most experienced veterans of theater. Also, "Arcadia" is filled with roles that could be interpreted as simply stock characters.
But Company Carolina's performance steers well clear of dramatic disarray, as director Ariel Watson's purposeful vision has rightfully allowed Stoppard's script to shine in its full brilliance. Likewise, the actors never succumb to the temptation of rote characterization but find ways to showcase the complexity of each character.
"Arcadia" succeeds on the merits of its stellar cast. Each performance is solid throughout the play's duration, displaying a mastery of script and an intimate knowledge of character and nuance. Bonnie Ayers' portrayal of reserved scholar Hannah Jarvis shines due to her witty delivery and versatile facial expressions.
But the real star of Company Carolina's "Arcadia" is Brian Nichols. As the frantically eccentric and ever-blundering Bernard Nightingale, one of the three scholars, Nichols is a comedic delight, stealing his every scene with professional ease and grace. Nichols creates a character who the audience grows to love simply for his charming flaws.
The entire play is delivered in a heavily affected British accent, which would pose difficulty for the cast. There are moments, albeit few of them, where cast members slip out of accent, and there are times when the actors speak too quickly, allowing the audience to lose the flow of the complex back-and-forth dialogue.
These flaws, however, neither overshadow the show's energy and enthusiasm, nor diminish a quality performance that gives its audience amusing and intelligent entertainment.
"Arcadia" is being presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Union Cabaret. Tickets are $8 general admission and $5 for students and can be purchased at the door.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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