In Pursuit of Knowledge Stoppard's Classic Tickles the Brain but Leaves the Heart Cold

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Byline: Barbara Vitello Daily Herald Critic At Large

bvitello@@dailyherald.com

"Arcadia"

* * * out of four

Location: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago

Times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; through June 3

Running time: About three hours, including intermission

Parking: Free lot adjacent to theater

Tickets: $36-$54

Box office: (773) 753-4472 or www.courttheatre.org

Rating: Suitable for teens and older

One admires Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" the way one admires a particle accelerator: with respect for the brilliance and erudition of the man who conceived it and with deference for the meticulousness of its construction.

A consummately crafted play (read it but have an encyclopedia handy), it is droll and challenging with witty dialogue, distinctive characters and big ideas. It embraces grand themes: reason vs. romanticism; free will vs. determinism; science vs. literature. It addresses the inscrutability of history, of genius and of love. Factor in mathematics, physics, gardening and sex and you have the stuff of which stimulating theater is made.

While I applaud Stoppard's considerable intellect, the protracted, self-consciously clever "Arcadia" remains a play I can't help feeling I should like more than I do.

Heat figures prominently in it, yet the play feels cold and academic. It does not inspire in me the great affection it inspires in other critics who have showered praise upon it since its 1993 London premiere. While it tickles my brain, it does not warm my heart, and so I look upon it with respectful detachment, my admiration polite but less than effusive.

That said, Court Theatre's refined revival directed by Charles Newell earns my admiration. The savvy Newell keeps characters circling each other (an appropriate visual for a play underscored by physics) in this elegantly acted and nimbly staged production, which - except for a rather sluggish scene concerning geometry and grouse - hums along. …