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Tom Stoppard's Arcadia returns to Broadway

A play hailed by some as the greatest of its time is about to be revived in New York.
The playwright Tom Stoppard's Arcadia has been described as the greatest play of its time. Rex Features
The playwright Tom Stoppard's Arcadia has been described as the greatest play of its time. Rex Features

Tom Stoppard's theatrical masterpiece Arcadia, hailed by some critics as the greatest play of its time, is to return to Broadway 16 years after it was first staged in New York.

The new production will star Margaret Colin, Raul Esparza and Billy Crudup, who made his Broadway debut in the first New York production in 1995, though in a different role.

It will be directed by David Leveaux, who directed the play's previous revival for the West End stage in London, where it had a sell-out run in 2009. Leveaux also previously directed Stoppard's Jumpers and The Real Thing on Broadway, both of which won Tony awards.

"Since its first production in 1993, Arcadia has become the play of mine which has been done the most in the US, so I'm really delighted that it's coming back to New York," Stoppard said in a statement. "David Leveaux and I have had very good experiences on Broadway with Jumpers and The Real Thing, so I'm especially pleased that Arcadia is returning under his direction."

The new production begins previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on February 25 and will open on March 17.

Arcadia is set in 1809, at a stately home in Derbyshire, England, where the gardens are being re-landscaped from the classical, ordered style of the 18th century into the wilder, romantic look that came into vogue in the early 19th century.

The dichotomy between these two characteristics becomes a defining theme of the play, setting order against chaos, but with a kind of method contained in the madness.

Thomasina Coverly, a precocious teenager, makes a startling mathematical proposition that anticipates the later development of fractal theory, while her tutor is preoccupied with a romantic assignation.

Two hundred years later, two academic rivals, Hannah and Bernard, are piecing together clues that reveal the truth of what unfolded in the stately home in Thomasina's time.

The action cuts between 1809 and the present day, on a set that features a large table that remains in place as the drama shifts between then and now. Props such as books, mugs, quill pens and laptops remain laid out on the tabletop between time switches, in a dramatic blurring of past and present.

Stoppard merges scientific ideas with human preoccupations, blending elements of comedy and high drama in a form of detective story that is also an exploration of mathematics, Newtonian physics, history, love and death.

The title, relating to the ancient Greek notion of a pastoral idyll, refers to the Latin "et in Arcadia ego", a phrase supposedly spoken by Death and understood as "even in this place of rural bliss, I, Death, am present".

The Times praised the 1993 London debut for its "perfect marriage of ideas and high comedy", while the The Daily Telegraph critic was moved to observe: "I have never left a play more convinced that I had just witnessed a masterpiece".

After the London revival in 2009, The Independent predicted it would come to be recognised as "the greatest play of its time".

Arcadia first opened at the Royal National Theatre in London in April 1993 in a production directed by Trevor Nunn that starred Felicity Kendall alongside Rufus Sewell and Bill Nighy. It won that year's Olivier award for Best Play.

The first New York production, which opened in March 1995 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, was again directed by Trevor Nunn, and won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.

Four years later, Leveaux brought the production back to the London West End, with a production at the Duke of York's Theatre that starred Samantha Bond, Nancy Carroll and Jessie Cave. The revival was an instant sell-out. The Observer called it "Stoppard's most brilliant play", and The Independent hailed it as "one of the most exquisite plays of the 20th century".

Stoppard's other work for the stage includes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Indian Ink, Rock 'n' Roll and The Coast of Utopia, which also starred Crudup and was the winner of the greatest number of Tony awards of any new play on Broadway. His film work includes Empire of the Sun and Shakespeare in Love.

Colin is best-known for her television role as Eleanor Waldorf in the television series Gossip Girl, while Esparza made his Broadway debut in the revival of The Rocky Horror Show and later appeared in Cabaret. Crudup also appeared in a production of The Coast of Utopia in 2007, winning a Tony award for his performance.

Updated: January 6, 2011 04:00 AM

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