Plays are events rather than texts.

They’re written to happen, not to be read.

Tom Stoppard, 1979, NYT

The latest incarnation of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia – a wickedly clever postmodern play about meaning, mathematics, sex, literature and academia – will open in Tokyo on October 14, with a cast of actors from across the English-speaking world.

Irish Director Conor Hanratty’s education in classical Greek has included Bachelors and Masters degrees in theater and trips to Greece to observe the ancient dramas live. He is in Japan on academic exchange from Dublin to study iconoclastic Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa (about whom he is writing a book) and, in his spare time, has connected with Tokyo International Players (TIP) to direct the dense and witty Stoppard two-act, which, as he puts it, poses far more questions than it answers while still managing to leave the audience wondrously sated. “The questions Arcadia raises really don’t go away,” Hanratty says, “asking, why we’re here and ‘why do things survive’ and ‘why do things get lost’ and ‘do we find them again’?

“There’s a wonderful moment in the play when the tutor turns to his pupil and says, “It’s okay, you know, we lose things and we carry things with us but it doesn’t matter because the important thing is the march that we’re on, and there’s nothing outside that, so even if we drop something, someone else will pick it up later.’ And they talk about all of the lost plays of the Athenians in Greece – which is, of course, close to my heart. Just very recently they found a big lump of a new Sophocles play that we didn’t have before, so it’s quite timely that they talk about these things that will reappear eventually … they do.”

The play takes place in one room in different times set apart by two centuries, and pits academics in sexual dalliances against a discussion of events muddled by history. American assistant director Robb Dahlke says, “I especially find intriguing Stoppard’s theme of not knowing exactly what has happened in the past – the mistakes that can be made by circumstantial evidence; how something can be read one way leading in the wrong direction from what actually happened.”

TIP is the oldest English language theater company in Japan, having a history of a remarkable 109 years and employing an entirely volunteer cast and crew made up of English-speaking actors and hands that happen to be in Tokyo. “That’s the difficulty,” remarks Briton Alice Hackett, who plays Hannah in the production, “you never can be sure you’re going to be able to cast a play with exactly the right pool of people. You have to count on what’s available. But that’s also very challenging for the actors who are available … you might find yourself playing slightly older than you normally would or in an accent you might not normally be acting in. It’s a great opportunity to try out new things.”

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, Directed by Conor Hanratty, October 14-16, will be performed at the Tokyo American Club, for more information: http://www.tokyoplayers.org

(originally published in Japanzine here)

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