OH GOD–A man walks into a psychologist’s office. He needs to talk and she’s the one. Oh…and he’s God. As in the deity. As in The Word–first, last, and always. Presented by Israeli Stage and written by the late Anat Gov in a season of all female playwrights, “Oh God” cracks open this borderline blasphemous exclamation and releases a flood of inquiry leading straight to the heart of the human experience.
The elegant, formidable Will Lyman (Who else? He is the voice of PBS “Frontline” after all.) is “God” and Maureen Keiller warm and forthright is his chosen therapist, Ella. They immediately embark on a wondrous exchange, witty and soulful, hilarious and poignant. Together they navigate the treacherous waters of a tragic-comic universe, from the sacred to the secular, the devil to the divine, in a startling search for meaning that raises as many questions as it attempts to answer.
Lyman and Keiller have been touring this show around the country for two years as a staged reading and it shows. They’ve got their rhythm down, and it’s fully alive and profoundly funny, her relentless probing taking him deeper, his singular dryness a mask for his soon-to-be-tapped vulnerability. The set is a beauty with a huge skylight looming dynamically at an angle overhead, a window on the vastness they are contemplating above and beyond. See this immediately and prepare to ponder. At the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown through April 30! (Will also run July 14-24/ Chester Theatre Company in the Berkshires.)
ARCADIA–Nora Theatre Company’s artistic director Lee Mikeska Gardner once again jumps onboard the space/time continuum and takes us for wondrous ride to the place where science and art intersect. It was just a matter of time before Mikeska Gardner set her acute sights on Tom Stoppard’s masterful ARCADIA. This production is splendidly cast and directed. Conceptually and linguistically dazzling, ARCADIA is a stunning romp through an increasingly complex double helix of a plot, wherein two separate but intertwined realities hurtle toward each other in space and time, converging on the answers to the questions about what really happened at Sidley Park, a country estate in Derbyshire England in 1809.
The initial plot involves 13 year-old math prodigy, the insouciantly brilliant Lady Thomasina Coverly (a delightful Kira Patterson) and her out-of-the-box, ahead of her time musings on time, space, causality, determinism, Fermat’s last theorem, chaos theory– and a burgeoning interest in “carnal embrace.” With the exception of the latter, her reach far exceeds her tutor’s grasp, that of the randy Septimus Hodge (a dryly funny, sexy Will Madden) who has stirred up a whirlpool of romantic intrigue among the ladies of the house including the slinky and imperious Lady Croom, Thomasina’s mother (Sarah Oakes Muirhead).
Simultaneously in the future, present day academic Hannah Jarvis (the daunting Celeste Oliva) is researching a curious hermit who once lived on the estate, while flamboyant literature professor Bernard Nightingale (the hilariously egomaniacal Ross MacDonald) is preparing a lecture on the mysterious visit of Lord Byron to Sidley park– which may have culminated in a duel!
All of the action revolves around a dining table that collects and serves up objects from both plots–including a noisy, live (!) tortoise, a literal walking metaphor for the continuity and simultaneity of time. As the play progresses, the plots become increasingly entangled until latter day Coverlys Chloe and Valentine (vividly played by Jade Wheeler and Matthew ZahnZinger) rev up the action by means of prescient speculation and computer calculations– and validate Thomasina’s genius.
A bittersweet tragedy is at the heart of the play, as the physical world plunges toward entropy, Stoppard extracts order out of chaos, pointing up the ambiguity of recorded history, the relative truth of any one moment, and the sad irony of a genius gone too soon–until time catches up with what we know she knew. I was enthralled. Wish I had sat closer, or one of the sides of the rectangular playing space, to better absorb Stoppard’s labyrinthine wordplay and crush of ideas. Lee Mikeska Gardner’s directorial touch is evidenced in its freewheeling formality, clarity and humor. Extended through Oh God knows when. Forever if I had my way. (Through May 15 if I must say.)