Arcadia by Tom Stoppard 1993

Stoppard’s Acadia was written 30 years ago, performed first on Broadway in 1995 and then revived in 2011.  It’s a brilliant exploration of free will, determinism, science, and human frailty and love.

The playwright sets the action in an English country house in 1809 with one set of characters and alternates that story with one in the same country house in the present time.  The two stories are continuously interwoven.  In 1809, a cynical, clever, and profligate tutor named Septimus Hodge is teaching his precocious young pupil, Thomasina Coverly who anticipates the outcome of Newton’s laws, i.e. that given enough computing power and a knowledge of current conditions, one can predict the future.  An unsuccesful poet and a few other characters provide secondary story lines. The present day characters, an Oxford don pursuing a theory about Lord Byron, an author pursuing a story about the Sidley hermit, and the young lord of the manor who is wrestling with mathematical calculations relating to determinism and free will each are pursuing a thread that the 1809 story provides.

The action is quick and the dialogue is brilliant, and Stoppard manages to bring it all together in the final scene when all the characters from both time periods are on stage, transitioning between the times with rapid resolution of the puzzles presented in the first act.

One can only marvel at the creativity of a Stoppard.  Having seen Rosenkranz and Guildenstern many years ago and Leopoldstadt two nights ago on Broadway, I’m eager to see a revival of this play with its clever banter and skilled execution by the playwright accompanied by deep questions about life, love, and our ability to know both the past and our own present.  By the way, we are saved from determinism by the Second Law of Thermodynamics!