' ' Cinema Romantico: Arcadia (Seeing My Favorite Actor On Broadway)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Arcadia (Seeing My Favorite Actor On Broadway)

This stage review (the first in the history of Cinema Romantico!) comes with a couple critical disclaimers. 1.) I am not much of a play-goer, which is actually a serious fault of mine when considering I live in a city with a fairly vibrant theater scene and 2.) Most of the 3 hour play I was quite starstruck, considering I had managed to score a second row seat and, thus, for most of the 3 hours was no less than 10 feet away from Billy Crudup, my Kate Winslet of male actors, a guy I have watched countless times as Russell Hammond and Prefontaine. When he first enters the stage at the Barrymore Theater it was all I could do to keep from shouting "I've defended 'Waking the Dead' more than anyone alive!" which no doubt would have upset the southern tourists to my left (who were quite concerned - literally - when a "young man" such as myself sat down right next to them, no doubt intent on stirring up some sort of trouble). And Billy Crudup. It probably would have upset Billy Crudup. And I really didn't want to upset him when this was potentially the only time I would ever be in the same room with him.

Mr. Crudup, who we will get to (oh, will we), does not show up until the second scene of the first act, though, and, really, things get rollicking pretty much right from second one of the opening minute. The play begins in 1809 on the English estate of Sidley Park where dashing Septimus Hodge (Tom Riley) is tutoring 13 year old Thomasina Coverly (Bel Powley). Eventually Ezra Chater (David Turner), a poet, will enter and this is significant because it seems Septimus has engaged in "carnal embrace" with Chater's wife and, thus, Chater challenges him to a duel. When we flash ahead to the second scene Bernard Nightingale (Crudup) turns up at the present day incarnation of Sidley Park to enlist the assistance of Hannah Jarvis (Lia Williams), presently on the estate researching the home and the garden, in an effort to prove that the aforementioned Chater was killed in a duel not by Septimus Hodge but by one Lord Byron. Rest assured, this is not merely the tip of the iceberg, but the tip of an entire theatrical Ice Age.

If I had any regrets in seeing "Arcadia" it's that I did not read the play beforehand. Written by Tom Stoppard, it is stacked and packed, dense beyond all belief, overflowing with ideas and comedy. Oodles of comedy that is balanced, expertly, against all the talk of the universe and sex and mathematics and architecture and landscaping and hermits and grouse......wait, grouse? Yes, it seems Valentine Coverly (Raul Esparza) is trying to use the Chaos Theory to determine why the population of the grouse at Sidley Park has declined and......who knows. I kind of mentally threw up my hands at the mention of the grouse. Not that I was mad. Far from it. I was simply overwhelmed and, in some ways, I sort of enjoyed it. As an avid cinema-goer stuck with so many movies that often have less than half of one idea this sort of idea-intensity was a real rush.

So was Billy Crudup. Granted, I'm irrefutably biased and not as in tune to what makes a great stage performance as opposed to a great film performance but this concerns me not even a little because my joy at watching him play-act was immense. From his very first moments you realize that all the Crudup-isms are in place, right there in front of you, a couple breaths away. The whisp of hair he's always brushing out of his face, the slightly pigeon-toed gait, the most expressive hands in the business, the smile that walks the high-wire between sincere and smirk. Except, of course, the difference is that in movie acting, typically, less is considered more and being onstage allows an actor to indulge in the opposite end of the spectrum. More is more. More was more. God help me, was he fun to watch! At the start of Act II he presents his lecture on Chater and Byron to Hannah, Valentine and Chloe (Grace Gummer) and even as you realize he is clearly a pompous ass blindly rushing ahead with his so-called facts in an effort to make a grand name for himself you also realize he comes down on the side of the arts against science - "quarks, quasars, big bangs, black holes - who gives a shit?" - which is painted by Stoppard, I think, as being both right and wrong and neither and Crudup's delivery of this material is just fiercely side-splitting. I'll never ever forget it.

As you can see, Billy Crudup delivers a brilliant portrayal.
Late in the show there was a moment during an impassioned monologue when, suddenly, spit shot out of Crudup's mouth and across the stage and, naturally, I lost focus for a moment because......well, that was Billy Crudup's spit! I saw Billy Crudup's spit! Up close and personal! Which might make me weird. Which is fine.

In the end, despite being, at this point, only sixteen going on seventeen, it seems apparent that Thomasina is the smartest of the whole big-talking bunch when she formulates some sort of complicated theory that she effortlessly deduces whereby the death of the universe is imminent. Yet this seems to concern her far less than getting Septimus to teach her how to waltz and so "Arcadia" concludes with Septimus and Thomasina - and, eventually, two other characters - waltzing, elegantly, around the stage. Perhaps this is merely because I saw Kylie Minogue live less than 48 hours earlier approximately 13 blocks away and that show, to me, was as simple and pure an expression of The Meaning Of Life as I have ever encountered but the implication of these waltzes were oh so clear. As in, hey, Valentine, enough about the god damn grouse, switch off the laptop and just dance.

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