“Arcadia,” the Department of Theater’s latest production, brilliantly mixes science, philosophy and comedy


Courtesy of Case Western Reserve Department of Theater

“Arcadia” comes to the new Maltz Performing Arts Center, starting a new era for theater at CWRU.

Shejuti Wahed, Staff Writer

“Here I am in Arcadia.”

As Lady Croom proclaims these words, I jolt with awareness, remembering where I am. I sit in the middle row of the new Maltz Performing Arts Center, watching “Arcadia,” the Tony-winning “romantic tragedy with jokes.” The title of the play promises a timeless paradise, referencing the isolated, rural beauty of the Greek province.

But just as quickly as my surroundings materialize, I lose myself yet again to the musings of young, intelligent Thomasina in her 19th-century home as she contemplates a proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem. Every sentence uttered requires my utmost attention—the witty references, foreshadowed connections and layers of intricacy attack my focus from the beginning to end of the play.

On Saturday, Nov. 6, my friends and I attended “Arcadia,” the Department of Theater’s latest production, directed by Professor Jerrold Scott. My expectations were high—“Arcadia” would be the first play I ever watched, aside from a few high school shows. The amazing things I had heard about the play from my friend performing in it, coupled with it being my first time in the newly renovated Maltz, had me considerably excited. 

As expected, the Department of Theater didn’t disappoint. The production was impeccable—we followed the complex intertwining of two timelines, as the show jumped between the early 19th century and the present. Within the show, affairs are exposed, the waltz is learned and scientific discoveries are made. So much occurred all at once, making the plot difficult to explain. In fact, during intermission, my friends and I all compared our individual understandings of what had occurred so far so we could fully grasp the storyline. The dialogue was expertly written, containing intriguing questions and subtle foreshadowing, all while capturing the audience’s attention.

Nevertheless, the cast of Case Western Reserve University’s “Arcadia” ably carried out this incredible feat with their phenomenal acting skills. Special performances included Professor Christopher Bohan as Bernard, the easily dislikeable but captivating academic, and alumni Katie Solomon and TJ Gainley as Hannah and Septimus, respectively, with both pulling off gripping performances as academics as well. Alumna Natalie El Dabh flawlessly played Lady Croom, the brazen and intimidating lady of the property. Each actor fit their characters so well that even I, the type to ask 50 questions during any movie, was able to understand the motivations of each character and follow the complex plot.

Even as an inexperienced observer, I could tell that the production was of high quality. While the entire play took place in the same room, the slightest differences in what was placed on the table completely altered the plot’s progression, whether it was a candle or a handwritten note. The changes in lighting signified the shifts between past and present, allowing audiences to follow the chronology. Even the music perfectly fit each mood, with upbeat tunes for scene transitions and melancholy piano melodies for tragic moments such as the last waltz.

But the reason I loved “Arcadia” so much went beyond the acting, music or production quality—for me, its beauty came from its well-crafted plot. Every seemingly insignificant detail influenced another key event or was somehow brought up in the future. I was forced to think during the entire production, whether it be about a misunderstanding, a weighty quote or the philosophical questions that the characters posed about the world.

Valentine, played by Sarthak Shah, pointed out the mechanical nature of the universe, explaining how the world can be mathematically modeled by iterations. Further, Thomasina’s and Chloe’s tirades forced me to question the deterministic nature of our universe. Even Gus, the mute character who rarely interacted with others, brought me to acknowledge the fluidity of time and the cyclicity that occurs across generations. But the show did not remain serious throughout—instead, each of these realizations came packaged with witty commentary and bits of humor that kept the play engaging.

Unfortunately, the final performance of “Arcadia” was last Sunday, so you may have missed your chance to watch a spectacular show performed by your talented classmates. But the good news is that Arcadia was only the Department of Theater’s first play—and there will be two more productions this school year. Regardless of whether you’re an avid theatergoer or a newbie like me, the upcoming performances are sure to be worth your time, if “Arcadia” is any indication.