Reviews; July 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Beardsley, Schneider, Powell; 4 Page(s)
Ican¿t think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars, big bangs, black holes-- who gives a s--t?" demands Bernard Nightingale in Tom Stoppard¿s play, shortly before his sensational literary theory that the poet Lord Byron killed a rival in a duel is decisively disproved by botanical evidence. The obnoxious professor¿s comeuppance is emblematic of the tension between poetry and science that pulls at the characters in Arcadia, just as that mythic landscape strains to reconcile bucolic leisure and natural fecundity.
Stoppard¿s play, first published in the U. K. four years ago, is poised to reach a much larger audience now that general production rights are available in the U. S. (This review is based in part on a performance at the Arena Stage in Washington, D. C.) Arcadia deserves a tip of the hat from every rationalist who has fumed at Hollywood¿s two-dimensional scientific noncharacters, such as the chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, who stumbles through Jurassic Park. The verbal virtuosity in Arcadia rests on a respectful, even sympathetic, examination of the way modern science looks at the world.