To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Arcadia Ablaze

When I walked into the SCC Theater last Saturday night, I was immediately met with the scent of open flames. As I was familiar with Arcadia’s grim ending, I thought, “Wow! What a brilliant composition decision!” Alas, it turned out that this scent was merely due to a technical glitch, which was quickly resolved by the SCC Theater Assistants. Nonetheless, it poetically began an evening filled with the intentional brilliance of a wonderful artistic team, helmed by director Sarah Salinger-Mullen ’19.

As the audience sat in the theater, waiting for the production to commence, we were allowed to relish in the breathtaking set designed by Jacob Bers ’20, lit beautifully by Noah Mark ’19.

The action of Arcadia unfolds in one room, jumping between the early 1800s and the present day. Bers crafted an open-faced living room, which brilliantly kept Mullen’s playing space visible to the audience while also allowing for an intimate staging required by the dialogue. While Bers’ set was mostly naturalistic, it was elevated during moments of surrealism by Mark’s tactful lighting decisions.

Both props and costumes, designed respectively by Monica Stamler ’21 and Kat Lawrence ’21, were tasked with the responsibility of transporting the audience between the two time periods. This proved to be a challenge in which both thrived. The distinction their designs drew between these periods was smart and seamless, while also aesthetically pleasing.

All of the actors in this production should be applauded for how well they each handled the massive amounts of challenging text provided by the script. However, the standouts of Saturday’s performance were undoubtedly Eliana Weiss ’21, Peirce Robinson ’22, Jason Frank ’22 and Mia Rubenstein ’22. Rubenstein was cool and incredibly comfortable on stage, acting as a voice of reason during the present-day scenes and providing a necessary foil to Frank’s bombastic, disorderly and comical portrayal of Bernard Nightingale. Robinson was witty and commanding, delightfully carrying most of the weight during the scenes from the past.

Perhaps the most riveting part of the evening was watching the transformation undergone by Weiss between the two acts. Like a candle, Weiss flickered between a naive, growing 13-year-old to a confident, mature young woman, allowing the audience to relish in the fire this character may have ignited on the world had her flame not been extinguished. The scenes between her and Robinson were engaging, sharp and some of the finest I have seen in the SCC Theater.

It is certainly no easy feat to stage a play as large and as famous as Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, particularly with an undergraduate design team and cast. Rather than allow herself to be bogged down by the gravity of this task, Mullen and her team flourished. They clearly put a substantial amount of time and care into the text work, which paid off in how well each actor understood and commanded their language, along with the solid, steady pacing of her production.

Mullen’s interpretation of the play also led her to create an alternative ending for the piece, which was potent, thrilling, and heartbreaking. Rather than allowing Arcadia to end on a blissfully ignorant moment of peace, she forced the audience to grapple with the moment Thomasina (Weiss) is engulfed in flames. This kept me on the edge of my seat until the moment the theater went dark, and serendipitously tied together my first moment in the theater with the last in a beautiful, tragic package. Mullen led her team to craft one of the strongest Undergraduate Theater Collective shows in recent memory and has set a new standard for productions to come.

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