Something strange happens when playwrights venture into the realm of math and science. Too much has to be explained, I think, and not enough can be shown. And really, aren’t plays about showing, not telling? Hyper-intellectualism abounds in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” and wouldn’t you know it, the damn thing is good anyway. Structured as a mystery that toggles between the 19th and 21st centuries, characters from both periods stride through the large front room of an old English estate in Derbyshire. In 1809, a 13-year-old math prodigy, her libidinous tutor and a hack poet, among others, occupy the home. It’s a combustible atmosphere—infidelities are waged, duels are challenged, manicured gardens are torn apart—and in the midst of all this, it seems our young pupil has stumbled upon the basic framework of metaphysics. Fast-forward to the present, where the house is filled with academics and ambitious history buffs who attempt to piece together just what happened and with whom back in 1809. The play’s appeal lies in its sheer interest in ideas. Everyone is in debate-team mode here, and the relationships that evolve (some romantic, some not) all eventually become unglued. It’s like staring at the theatrical equivalent of a lava lamp. Heavy. Very heavy—but not. There are a few casting missteps in director James Bohnen’s production for Remy Bumppo, but there are also some excellent performances as well, including Sean Bradley as the 19th Century Alfie-esque tutor, and Ashley Wood as the understated 21st Century scientist—Wood, it seems, is capable of making his face turn red on command, and it makes one hell of an impact. (Nina Metz)
Remy Bumppo’s “Arcadia” plays at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000, through January 2.