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Shaw Festival 2013 Season Brochure
Courtesy of Shaw Festival 2013 Season Brochure

The Niagara Blog:     A volley of ideas - Tom Stoppard's 20th Century Masterpiece - Shaw Festival's Production of Arcadia

Monday evening, the last in a series of co-sponsored Niagara on the Lake Public Library & Shaw Festival "In Conversations With..." featured Eda Holmes, Director of Arcadia playing at the Studio Theatre from July 14 - September 7. A good sized crowd was treated to Eda's two guests, both actors in the play - Patrick McManus (Bernard Nightingale) and Diana Donnelly (Hannah Jarvis).

Diana Donnelly   Eda Holmes   Patrick McManus
Diana, Eda and Patrick "In Conversation" at the Niagara on the Lake Public Library

The evening featured a lively discussion of Tom Stoppard's work characterized by Jackie Maxwell as "a play that is set in the past and the present; a past that is seen through the eyes of the present; worlds that are inhabited by very smart, funny, flawed and deeply human characters - surely Arcadia is the perfect play for us!"

Eda, Patrick and Diana talked about Stoppard, how they prepared for the play and what it meant to them. The metaphor of the garden which relates to our primal thirst for knowledge and the subsequent lost innocence is a major theme, the term Arcadia according to Holmes deriving from Virgil's "ideal countryside" then taken up by French painters, but the play is set in both 1809 and the present day, and time and topics seem to reverberate like a tennis ball batted back and forth across an imaginary net with Lord Byron, an offstage character that they all heavily researched, with Patrick mentioning that he thought Byron's Don Juan was strangely equivalent to modern rap.

The three pointed out that everybody seeks a beautiful solution to life's mysteries, hence Stoppard's use of math, but once one takes a bite, innocence is lost, and it's pure folly to think that one ever truly has an answer. This play according to Holmes is regarded by many as the greatest play of the 20th century!

The cast was treated to a "Byron boot camp," a lecture by a mathematics professor, and both McManus and Donnelly described the ordeal of late rehearsals at Shaw after performances in matinees, rendered somewhat easier for those who live in NOTL.

Eda Holmes describes her role as creating "the right tray on which to serve the play," mentioning set design by Sue LePage which required a frugal combination of "Regency Period and doors for slamming," lighting design by Michelle Ramsay and sound design by Alan Cole, and she indicated that the small, 200-seat Studio Theatre was perfect for the desired intimacy with the audience.

During the evening we learned bits about Stoppard, the fact that he is a reading omnivore who devours literature and five daily newspapers and writes plays "so he can argue with himself." With Stoppard, we are in for an intellectually dazzling ride, a mystery wrapped up in a love story, wrapped up in a scandal. Holmes relates that the play opens and ends with the raw subject of "carnal union!" For her, the play emphasizes the power of and need for "wonder in life." Both actors revealed that they felt privileged to be in such a play with McManus emphasizing that one's lines are always easier to remember in great plays, and Donnelly stressing the need to be totally in the moment with Stoppard text, emitting and emoting at the same time, producing unique trajectories as the actors intermix.

Diana Donnelly   Eda Holmes   Patrick McManus

Holmes summed it all up with, "It's fun! It makes your heart beat faster." She asked both actors what they were doing post Shaw. Donnelly is on the lookout for roles, while McManus indicated that he is thrilled to be in Peter Hinton's Seagull in Montreal, the first of what are generally considered to be the four major plays by the Russian dramatist, Anton Chekhov.

Shaw Festival - 2013 Season Trailer

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