Yesterday, Peter and I went to see Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia performed at The Pear Avenue Theatre. First a word, about the Pear Avenue Theatre, or “the Pear” as everyone calls it these days: it’s a very small theatre in a nondescript office block in Mountain View. You wouldn’t think much of it to see its exterior, but what it lacks in size and splashiness, it more than makes up for in imagination and talent.
Until we discovered The Pear, Peter and I sorely missed seeing plays at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, but its distance and our babysitting costs, made The Magic Theatre an impossible luxury. Like the Magic Theatre, The Pear finds and puts on new plays by local playwrights, in a small theatre, and at an affordable price. The Pear also picks out and puts on classic plays like The Skin of Our Teeth and The Seagull, which you might very well pay $50 to see at The Rep or ACT.
The first time we went to see a play at The Pear, we were also worried about how good it might be, since this obviously wasn’t the kind of plays that would be paying the actors hundreds of dollars for each performance. As it turned out, the casting and direction is superb, since the actors are inevitably great, and leave us amazed at the talent we have in the Bay Area. The stage is tiny, which makes the performances particularly intimate: at times, if you’re in the front row, the actors will come close enough to touch. In fact, in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, one of the stage chairs was actually in the front row, and if you had the right seat you might find yourself sitting right next to morphine-dreamy Mary Tyrone. I enjoy that, but if you don’t, you can sit a few rows back.
So, now on to Arcadia. I only had the barest idea what the play was about. Peter described it light English romantic comedy for physics geeks. But even so, there’s more to it than that. It started out extremely witty, like a clever sit-com set in 1809. It went on to switch between 1809 and the present day, to relate the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the end of the world, draw parallels between English academic one-upsmanship and romantic betrayal, and throw in a mystery about a math-obsessed hermit and Lord Byron. It had sex, shooting, and a cute tortoise. In particular, I liked the theme that if we could calculate the future, we might discover something so sad that we’d lose hope in the present.
The Pear’s program included a glossary of Briticisms that even its erudite audience would be unlikely to know, such as The Breakfast Hour, and ha-ha (in the landscaping sense.) Peter still came away from the play feeling we hadn’t caught on to all of it, it was so deep.
And speaking of the Pear’s talent, the actors (all American) put on British accents throughout the play. I usually dread American actors trying to do accents. For instance, I think Matt Damon was supposed to be a Boston “Southie” in Good Will Hunting, but his accent bounced into Joisey, each of the New York boroughs, and in and out of L.A., so badly I thought he was playing multiple personalities. And don’t get me started on Susan Sarandon’s “Italian” accent in Cradle Will Rock. If you can’t do it right, I’d prefer you don’t do it at all. Just let me fill in the regionality: as long as the accent is consistent, it’s ok with me if Robin Hood sounds like he comes from Brentwood.
However, the Pear’s actors were all consistent and believable at Brits. I’m far from an authority on British accents, but I have heard the real thing (including several of the charming regional variants), as well as way too many fake ones. I think the Pear’s Arcadia actors got it all right. You could even tell the difference between the middle-class characters and the aristocratic characters. Bernard Nightingale might have veered towards American, but he was, after all, a pompous academic, believably wanting to be “mid-Atlantic.” Peter, who listens to Brits a lot more often than I do, thought Chloe Coverly was a little dubitable, but then, what is an English aristocratic Valley Girl supposed to sound like?
Needless to say, the actors otherwise (and likewise) were perfect. And local theatre geeks seem to have caught on to The Pear. The show we attended was sold out, and the director told us the weekend shows for the next three weeks had sold out as well (but they might extend the run). On one hand, I’m delighted The Pear is so successful, because it means it will continue to be around. On the other hand, I don’t like my little secret being out, because it’ll make getting into the shows that much harder.
So, by all means, get tickets to see Arcadia at the Pear, and get the tickets now. But don’t get in my way when the box office opens for their next show.