Sex, math and philosophy

Play spans two eras, filled with sexual innuendos


Elliot Wasserman

Colin Culliver, Richard Price and Aimee Grace rehearse for “Arcadia,” Tuesday night which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18-20.

The only thing that prevents mathematics and predictability from working is sex.

This phrase taken from the upcoming USI Theatre production of “Arcadia” is the “truest thing anyone can say,” said Elliot Wasserman, the play’s director.

In collaboration with the New Harmony Theatre, the USI Theatre production will run Feb. 18-21, in the Performance Center.

The play hits on topics ranging from chaos theory and philosophy to literature all while making sexual innuendos, Wasserman said.

“Tom Stoppard (the playwright) can be a little crude, and then he can turn around and amaze you with his reach of scholarship,” he said.

“Arcadia” is the most intellectually challenging play Wasserman said he has ever worked on.

One of the characters reads four lines of verse that someone wrote into the margins of a book and assumes that Lord Byron wrote them, he said.

“What’s fascinating about that to me is that Tom Stoppard wrote those lines that had to be good enough to where they could reasonably make the case that somebody of Lord Byron’s stature and genius could have written them,” he said.

The play takes place at a manor, Sidley Park, during both the early 1800s and present day.

The 19th-century storyline centers on a young tutor, Septimus Hodge, who discovers his teenage aristocratic student, Thomasina Coverly, is a math genius.

The present-day storyline centers around the three scholars who try to figure out what happened in the 1800s.

Freshman Samuel Garrison is the only actor who gets to play two characters, one in present day and one in the 1800s.

His present-day character, Gus Coverly is a descendent of the Coverly family in the 1800s and is the younger brother of Valentine Coverly, the mathematician and third scholar trying to solve the mystery.

The character doesn’t speak and expresses everything through physical action.

“He is almost like a silent genius,” the theatre arts major said. “He’ll often be offstage playing the piano, playing these intricate melodies without any prior lessons or anything.”

Garrison’s other character, Augustus Coverly, is Gus’s complete opposite, he said.

“His family has very high status,” he said. “He acts like everyone who is not on his status is just completely beneath him, like the dirt beneath his feet.”

“Arcadia” is a mix of “Downton Abbey” and “The Big Bang Theory,” Melissa Carlile-Price said.

The Theatre Department hired two professional actors, Melissa and her husband Richard, to play historian Hannah Jarvis and literary critic Bernard Nightingale, who try to uncover the mystery.

“We hypothesize what must have been going on in those early 1800s and then in the next scene (the audience) sees what really transpired,” she said.

Her character visits the manor to write about the historical gardens.

“Bernard arrives at Sidley Park and sort of throws a wrench in Hannah’s work,” she said.

Richard said he enjoys playing his wife’s enemy.

“We get to make-believe fight on stage and we get to work out all of our demons and we can have a catharsis,” he said, “and we can go home and just have a stress-free marriage.”

Richard said his character is both an arrogant and ambitious scholar of the poet Lord Byron.

“Arcadia” is Richard’s fourth show with the New Harmony Theatre, but his first with the USI Theatre.

He said he’s most looking forward to working in the new Performance Center.

“The energy of opening night is what I really live for,” Richard said. “That first time in front of an audience is when it stops being the play you’ve been rehearsing and it becomes this living, breathing organism.”

Fast Facts

Date: 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18-20, 2 p.m. on Feb 21

Location: Performance Center

Cost: $12 for USI students, $15 for USI employees, $16 for seniors and non-USI students and $18 for adults