Here is what I think: Arcadia is an amazing play. It is enlightening and provocative. It’s populated by brilliant, flawed humans who I want to know better. Its ideas shimmer, its humor sparkles, and its language is a celebration of intellectual agility.
Most importantly, it asks big questions worth considering. As it ranges across topics from entropy to algebra, from chaos theory to carnal embrace, the play asks us to consider the nature of connections between people, between ideas, and even between different modes of understanding. It asks us about what we value and why we value it. It raises big, baffling questions about the nature of time, the acquisition of knowledge, the process of intellectual investigation, and, of course, the one thing we tend to care the most about—the unending intricacies of the human heart.
When I direct, there is one word I use more than any other. It is not love, though I talk about that a lot. It is not conflict or emotion, or even action, intention, or motivation. It is amazement.
I am fascinated by amazement. By wonder. By the incredible, the unbelievable, the awesome. This is a big part of why I admire Shakespeare so much. More than any other playwright, he throws his characters into situation after situation filled with wonder and amazement—from the most jaw-dropping, heart-stopping love at first sight, to the most unfathomable cruelty, to the most miraculous of miracles. He knows that when his characters are utterly amazed, we are likely to be as well.
This is why Arcadia is so right for the Folger. It is not simply because the books, learning, and pursuit of knowledge that are so central to Arcadia are also at the core of this institution. It is rather because Tom Stoppard, like Shakespeare, is engaged by wonder. He is astounded by the world. Stoppard and Shakespeare both have genius, but fortunately for us, their insight never made them jaded or cynical. Rather, it enkindled in both of them an enduring and irresistible fascination with all that is marvelous, mysterious, and amazing. This is why I am so thrilled to be doing this fabulous play right here at the Folger.
One more thing worth noting: I know some audiences are intimidated by Stoppard and worried about “getting it.” It is all so erudite. So many references. But trust me, enjoying the play does not require intimate knowledge of the picturesque or Archimedes or even the difference between a Newtonian and an Etonian. It does, however, ask that we don’t sit back and relax, but rather sit forward and engage. So here is my two cents: Don’t get hung up on the details. It is not a test. Keep looking wide. Or, as my mother would often say at the end of her always-excellent meals: “Eat what you can, and leave the rest.”
—Aaron Posner, Director