Arts Theatre

Arcadia folds science into theatre

// David Cooper
// David Cooper

Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Fermat’s Last Theorem: both are entry points into that ultimate question—why are we here?

“That’s really what everyone’s asking,” Aaron Hursh says. “If you find your passion in this thing here, and somebody else finds it there, those things are equally important in the grand scheme of things. It’s the wanting to know that’s important.”

Hursh is sitting at a table in Normand’s Bistro beside Julia Guy, his co-performer and fellow participant in this year’s Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program. They’re chatting about the show at the centre of that program, which they’ve been putting together for months: Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Arcadia is a canonical piece of contemporary drama, often hailed as one of Stoppard’s finest works and a foremost piece of the genre. Hursh and Guy play Septimus Hodge and Thomasina Coverly, a tutor and his precocious 13-year-old student. The play weaves their story in 1809 and 1812 with characters in the present day.

“It’s got a lot for your left-brain audience members,” Guy says. “I’ve never done a play that has so much science in it, and so many passionate, logical people.”
A thermodynamicist attended a rehearsal, Guy notes, to explain the theories and principles behind specific lines of dialogue.

“We were all asking her, ‘When did you fall in love with science?'” she says. “Asking her all these actor questions, because she was exactly who we’re trying to show: all these people who are crazy about numbers.”

Its adept handling of complex theories is part of what has made Arcadia such an impressive piece of drama; Hursh and Guy’s animated discussion certainly seems to support this. But they’re also quick to identify the play as far more than just a science lesson.

“It’s really easy to talk about the play in terms of how smart it is or how intellectual it is,” Hursh notes. “But it’s as if Oscar Wilde had a hand in writing it, because half the time it’s high comedy; it’s extremely witty and funny and fast-moving, and there’s just so many brilliant ideas coming at you that you just can’t help but explode laughing.”

“Nobody wants to watch theatre and feel like they came from a lecture,” Guy says. “It’s not just a logical argument about ideas; it has to do with how these ideas affect their hearts and who they are, and what happens when someone’s whole belief system is challenged.”

“It’s the head and the heart,” Hursh adds. “A very nice balance.”

Until Sun, Apr 12 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Tom Wood
Citadel Theatre, $35 – $89

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