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"Mrs Chater demanded satisfaction and now you demand satisfaction."
August 9, 2013 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," Twenty Years Later. Novelist Brad Leithauser muses on "the finest play written in my lifetime": One sign of "Arcadia"'s greatness is how assuredly it blends its disparate chemicals, creating a compound of most peculiar properties. The play’s ingredients include sexual jealousy and poetasters and the gothic school of landscape gardening and duelling and chaos theory and botany and the perennial war between Classical and Romantic aesthetics and the maturing of mathematical prodigies.

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posted by Cash4Lead (39 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
So... is a "poetaster" a poetry dilettante, someone who only "Tastes"? Or are they cannibals who eat poets?

<GOOGLE>

Ah, a crappy poet.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:17 AM on August 9, 2013


I love this play. I've seen it, um, in three productions now? Time is a funny thing.
posted by mwhybark at 10:23 AM on August 9, 2013


I saw this play in London. Ed Stoppard, Tom Stoppard's son was in it.

My review echoes that of the AMS. The play seemed a bit trite to me, a bit of a mess, with unearned pieces of drama and math and science references that were quite shallow. It reminded me more than anything of people who toss off literary quotes from books they have not read.

As the Telegraph said, summing up the reviews: "Marvellous! Bravo! Just don't ask me to explain what it was about."
posted by vacapinta at 10:30 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is Tom Stoppard's Arcadia the greatest play of our age?

Yes.
posted by maryr at 10:39 AM on August 9, 2013


I'm still pissed I didn't go see it when it first played in NYC. By the time I finally made up my mind to spring for it, it was too near the end of the run and tickets were unavailable.

In short, I hate you for making this post and reminding me of my failings.
posted by languagehat at 10:43 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pistols at dawn, languagehat? I'd do it later, but the Malta packet leaves out of Falmouth at seven...
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, Arcadia is a fantastic play to read out loud with your friends around a kitchen table with the kettle right there to make another cup of tea. I think I have done this twice and would happily do it again. (In fact, it is a goal of mine if Camp Mefi ever happens. Bring your copy.)
posted by maryr at 10:48 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


So... is a "poetaster" a poetry dilettante, someone who only "Tastes"? Or are they cannibals who eat poets?

The -aster suffix is very nice, but not very productive:

poetaster
grammaticaster
philosophaster

There are a few others, I think, that I can't remember at the moment.
posted by kenko at 10:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


dis-aster
posted by mochapickle at 10:57 AM on August 9, 2013


This play probably provides me with my favourite memory of theatre, maybe even one of my favourite memories of art: an outdoor production, in a garden at Sidney Sussex, early summer evening. It was the first time I'd seen it, and it just unfolded, this beautiful thing, perfectly choreographed, wonderfully written. I can close my eyes now, nearly fifteen years later, and still remember how I felt, what I thought. It's a piece of writing that has enormous personal significance to me, that I feel I carry around inside me. Is it the greatest play of our age? Along with Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, yes, it most certainly is.
posted by hydatius at 11:00 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


dis-aster

Someone who dabbles in dissing things in a dilletantish manner ("your mother is so fat, she really might want to think about consulting with her primary care physician").

Or perhaps someone who dabbles in reigning in the underworld?

(As for the play, it's a nice evening out at the theater, but it's not even Stoppard's best play, let alone the "greatest play of our age").
posted by yoink at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I've got to lead with "...I cannot spend my time day and night satisfying the demands of the Chater family.”

But what I really wanted to write was: “Seduced her? Every time I turned round she was up a library ladder. In the end I gave in. That reminds me—I spotted something between her legs that made me think of you.”

I saw the Center Theater Group production in LA more than a decade ago, and it remains the most satisfying, transcendent experience I have ever had at the theater. I was on the edge of my seat, literally.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The -aster suffix is very nice, but not very productive:

poetaster
grammaticaster
philosophaster

There are a few others, I think, that I can't remember at the moment.

Zor(r)oaster.

Arcadia is great btw.
posted by ersatz at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Getting to play Septimus in a couple of very small productions of Arcadia were high points in my life.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 11:08 AM on August 9, 2013


I worked stagecraft on a production of Arcadia that caught fire. There was billowing smoke, and I hacked up black gunk for days, but the show went on.

... oh, and to return to the actual topic: I liked it. The whole thing with fractals was fun. But I mostly remember the fire. :)
posted by mordax at 11:09 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was fortunate enough to see the first U.S. production of this - Lincoln Center, with Billy Crudup, Robert Sean Leonard, Blair Brown, and Victor Garber. And as soon as I get my time machine, I'm going right back and seeing it again. Brilliant play, fabulous production. I was in tears at the end, as much because it was over as because I was moved.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2013


Thank you for the links! I cannot comment on greatest plays but Arcadia is my favorite Stoppard play. I have been lucky enough to have seen it twice; once in a community theater production in Phoenix and again in the most recent run on Broadway and it was delightful both times.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:30 AM on August 9, 2013


I performed the opening act with an amazing young actress for an acting class in College and the opening lines will be forever etched in my memory:

Thomasina: Septimus, what is carnal embrace?
Septimus: Carnal Embrace is the act of throwing ones arms around a side of beef.
Thomasina: Is that all?
Septimus: No... a shoulder of mutton, a haunch of venison well hugged, an embrace of grouse...


Such an amazing play.
posted by Jernau at 11:34 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole thing with fractals was fun. But I mostly remember the fire. :)

One night during the college production of Arcadia I was in, the (live) turtle we used to play Lightning walked off the table it was on in the middle of the performance. It survived, thankfully, but the actors playing Hannah and Valentine were noticeably thrown off.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:46 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was in this. I was Noakes the gardener. It's a role where you sit in the greenroom for the middle two hours of a three hour play. I would leave the theater, in costume, and get drinks at a nearby bar. Once I went to a party.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:50 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I saw the 1994 "Arcadia" with Felicity Kendall (but not Rufus Sewell) at the Royal Haymarket, London. The actor playing Chater forgot a line and an offstage prompter had to shout it out to him. Otherwise, it was a transcendent experience, made even more transcendent because we ended up sitting next to Tom Stoppard and Trevor Nunn.
posted by Quaversalis at 12:11 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw the Broadway revival and genuinely enjoyed it. The audience was extremely absorbed in the very fast-paced dialogue, complete with a shocked GASP at [MAJOR SPOILER NOT INCLUDED HERE]. As an academic myself, I was taken with how well Stoppard evoked the excitement you can get from research (although, of course, there was also the OOF sparked by the parody of a fame-seeking academic--luckily, that's not much of a temptation in my field :) ).
posted by thomas j wise at 12:32 PM on August 9, 2013


The -aster suffix is very nice, but not very productive:

poetaster
grammaticaster
philosophaster


Stratocaster.
posted by Naberius at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I think I've mentioned here before, I saw this at the National Theatre. Possibly my favourite bit of theatre ever,* and my favourite bit of this, oddly, was when Rufus Sewell put down a wine glass in the 18th century, and Felicity Kendall picked it up in the 20th, which caused a huge frisson despite the fact that I knew they were really two people who were on the same stage at almost the same time.

(More even than Amadeus with Paul Scofield and Simon Callow, which was quite something as well. Showing off a bit, sorry. The only competition is the Medieval Players' version of Gargantua starring Mark Heap.)
posted by Grangousier at 1:32 PM on August 9, 2013


It's definitely one of the top contenders. Both Arcadia and Angels in America made a deep impression on me, and I'm currently writing my own plays because of Stoppard and Kushner (and Beckett, but that's another story).

One of the things I love about Arcadia, is that the science matters in a way that's central to the text, which is not true of shows like Proof, where it's just window dressing, or Copenhagen, where it's used as a metaphor.

Arcadia is one of those amazing pieces that "has it all": comedy, drama, intellect, and heart.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:36 PM on August 9, 2013


I saw this twice when it was in DC, after reading it a few times. I cried both times in the theatre, it's even more affecting than on the page.
posted by X-Himy at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2013


ACT in San Francisco recently put up a new production of Arcadia, and in a flash of genius, Carey Perloff (director of the play and Artistic Director of ACT) put up an invitation-only one-night-only readthrough of Hapgood during the run using (mostly) actors from the Arcadia cast. If you love Arcadia, see or read Hapgood. It's terrific.



If knowledge isn’t self-knowledge it isn’t doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing ‘When Father Painted the Parlour’? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you. ‘She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.’ There you are, he wrote it after coming home from a party.
(Arcadia)
posted by janey47 at 2:16 PM on August 9, 2013


One of the best plays I have ever read and probably in my top ten literary works regardless of format. Which, uh, probably means I'm long overdue for a re-read since Goodreads doesn't even have a record of me reading it and my Goodreads history goes back to 2002. Where does the time even go?
posted by jessypie at 3:13 PM on August 9, 2013


I've read at least eight Stoppard plays, and my favorite is Hapgood, not Arcadia. However, I haven't seen either of them performed.
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 3:44 PM on August 9, 2013


I got to play Captain Bryce a couple years ago. It wasn't the greatest production, but I did enjoy designing the poster. The best part (for my geeky mind) was learning about Croome Court, one of Capability Brown's works of "landscape architecture," and almost certainly the inspiration for both Sidley Park and the name of Lady Croom.

Also, every April 10 I post "April The Tenth!" on Facebook. My castmakes Like it, and everybody else is so damn confused...
posted by mgrichmond at 7:34 PM on August 9, 2013


m-aster
posted by Give my rear guards to fraudway at 7:49 PM on August 9, 2013


(melanogaster!)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:52 PM on August 9, 2013


I totally cried at the end of Arcadia and I don't think I have ever cried at any other play or movie in my adult life. There was just something about it that was so affecting. To this day I am astonished at my own reaction. Totally powerful.
posted by Mid at 8:54 PM on August 9, 2013


> I was fortunate enough to see the first U.S. production of this - Lincoln Center, with Billy Crudup, Robert Sean Leonard, Blair Brown, and Victor Garber. And as soon as I get my time machine, I'm going right back and seeing it again. Brilliant play, fabulous production. I was in tears at the end, as much because it was over as because I was moved.

Me too. Me too. Me too. I had just seen it in London that January (not with Rufus Sewell, sadly) and leapt at the chance to see it again in the US production.

(Also, this play was how I figured out that while I was a hopeless failure at learning mathematics by practicing arithmetic, I'm actually quite fascinated by mathematics when I get there through philosophy and theory.)
posted by desuetude at 9:44 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was fortunate enough to see the first U.S. production of this - Lincoln Center, with Billy Crudup, Robert Sean Leonard, Blair Brown, and Victor Garber.

Me too. And I've only just learned from a quick google that I witnessed Paul Giamatti's Broadway debut without ever realizing it!

It was my first time in New York, down for a long weekend from Kingston, Ontario, with my undergrad girlfriend. We were such rubes - got her to take my picture outside CBGB's, stood in line to go see a taping of Letterman, ate at a checked-tablecloth tourist trap in Little Italy. Went one afternoon to the World Trade Center observation deck. As we were coming back out, I spied the TKTS booth in the lobby, suggested on the spur of the moment that maybe we should see if anything good was on (like we knew).

Anyway, I'd seen Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and the girlfriend was intrigued by Robert Sean Leonard, so we bought cheap seats to Arcadia. I marvel in retrospect at the luck of it all. Ah yes, of course, it's New York, there's cheap tickets to Tom Stoppard's masterwork on every street corner! I can only imagine how much we looked like out-of-towners in what passed for our theatre best as we filed into Lincoln Center.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was the single most powerful theatre experience of my life - and I've been to dozens upon dozens of plays since. Little did I know how soon the whole story would seem like it was from another era in the city's history entirely.
posted by gompa at 10:19 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


My school put on a production of Arcadia, and I worked the crew (building sets, etc) and it was astounding. I went to watch it on a couple different nights, each time catching more and more. It might have flaws, but it's just about the most perfect play I've ever seen.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:40 PM on August 9, 2013


I've never been able to see Arcadia, but I read it a couple times a year. It's my favorite anything.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:31 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, would you look at that, I happen to own a copy of Hapgood. Based on the recommendations above, I guess I ought to read it.
posted by maryr at 10:18 AM on August 10, 2013


The first Stoppard play I saw was Travesties at the Center Theatre Group in LA, in rep with The Importance of Being Earnest. Unforgettable. I was 16 years old (according to the Mark Taper Forum archive) and they left an indelible impression on me.

The Stoppard play that grabbed my heart and pulled it out of my chest, though, was The Invention of Love, in NY in 2001, and this still pulls at me pretty hard:

"- but why, Ligurinus, alas why this unaccustomed tear trickling down my cheek? - why does my glib tongue stumble to silence as I speak? At night I hold you fast in my dreams, I run after you across the Field of Mars, I follow you into the tumbling waters, and you show no pity." (end of Act One, from Odes IV. i by Horace)

and this:

"...before Plato could describe love, the loved one had to be invented. We would never love anybody if we could see past our invention ... In the mirror of invention, love discovered itself. Then we saw what we had made - the piece of ice in the fist you cannot hold or let go..."

How often I have thought of that. The piece of ice held in the fist that you can neither hold nor let go. For such an intellectual, Stoppard can bring so much emotion to the surface.
posted by janey47 at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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