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UNCW’s time travel:

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Arcadia
by Tom Stoppard
UNCW Cultural Arts Building
Mainstage Theatre
2/24-27 & 3/3-6 • 8 p.m.; 2 p.m., Sun.
Tickets: $10-$12 • www.etix.com

Maria Katsadouros and Jacob Keohane perform in UNCW’s latest production “Arcadia.” Courtesy photo.

That Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia” revels in mathematic, scientific and philosophical speak shouldn’t turn away audiences from its emotional depth and comedic enlightenment. Written in 1993, the production delves into order and disorder, all the while waxing poetic on life, love and human connection. Though the playwright himself dropped out of school, many critics praise “Arcadia” as not just his best work, but one of his most didactic, even winning the 1994 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play.

With a plot involving the Coverly family estate and the people who live in the same house over a century apart from one another, time travel and broad-mindedness, academia and artistic fancy make up its guts. Its key players consist of a teenager, her tutor, a professor, two academics, a Lady, a landscape architect and a famed literature icon, Lord Byron (though his presence is merely mentioned), among a mish mash of others. Set in an English country house, surrounded by lavish gardens, the play reveals the circumstances of two time periods, the household in 1809 and the academics living there 180 years later investigating its 19th century inhabitants. It uses many forms of study, such as determinism, the chaos theory, romanticism versus classicism, and the Newtonian universe, to delve into the innerworkings of relationships.

Director Renee Vincent, a professor in UNCW’s Theatre Department, is directing “Arcadia,” which opens this Friday at UNCW’s Mainstage in the Cultural Arts Building. Vincent kindly took time out last week to answer a few of our questions about the production.

e: Tell me the reasoning for choosing “Arcadia” as part of the 2011 UNCW Department of Theatre lineup. What drew you to it?
RV: Stoppard’s “Arcadia” is a perfect gem to polish and present in a university setting. It has been hailed recently as one of the best plays of the 20th century and will soon enjoy another Broadway revival. Stoppard, by choice, did not attend university, even saying, “I hated schooling!” Yet, through his plays, we sense a rich career in self-education. In this play, he tackles the “life of the mind.” He cleverly utilizes brilliant young characters, spanning two centuries, who poke fun at all our egocentric and academic, attempts to explain all we learn at university, from the arts, to the sciences. In the end, it’s a hysterical tour-de-force of wits.

“Arcadia” is also a fantastical love story. A love affair not only of the mind and of intellectual curiosity, but also of the human heart, which drives the chaos of the world.

e: Its plot switches between past and present; what’s the most difficult aspect in directing this switch of timeline and conveying it clearly to the audience?
RV: This switch of time periods in front of a live audience, without set changes, is the very brilliance of the play. I am very lucky as a director to have a talented production team of designers, a resourceful dramaturge, and other imaginative affiliated artists who have been researching and in preproduction on this show since last summer. We enjoy the challenge of making the difficult seem easy. In this production, we invite your imagination to time travel.

e: Tell me about ‘Arcadia’s’ characters and who’s playing them. How are they evolving into their roles; are the students bringing nuances to it that you didn’t suspect?
RV: Our cast is a very talented group of young actors. They have researched their roles like seasoned academics, yet brought the heart of joy and laughter of irrepressible school children to the stage. All the characters need this mix of sage and sweet. A young actor’s keen sense of competition and sport, coupled with their delight in the “thrill of victory and the agony” of defeat make for an unusually entertaining academic joust!

e: Philosophically, the play could seem convoluted to viewers. How would you prepare them mentally for show? And will this show only appeal to academics?
RV: We have gone to great lengths to give dramaturge notes in the program, and we have added visual “surprises” in the production, which will ensure everyone leaves the performance well-entertained and perhaps more informed.

e: What are its underlying themes and how are they relevant to our current society?
RV: The philosopher Horace stated the best of theatre is “to teach but delight.” His thought was, we might learn something new, in an entertaining manner. “Arcadia” is just that: a democratic play for all tastes, and times and intelligences. Come, and laugh as you learn!

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