Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’ is one of my most favorite plays; unbelievably smart, it weaves together philosophy, romance, math and mystery into one incredibly moving package. It is, to me, Stoppard at his absolute best – intellectual theory used to serve the beating emotional heart of the play, which isn’t always the case with his work (I know people love The Coast of Utopia, but I felt like they should have had Russian Intellectualism Cliff’s Notes handed out with the program). Which is why I was so excited to hear that it was going to be coming back to Broadway this year. I was more excited when they announced the cast, featuring the brilliant Billy Crudup again (he was in the original NY production, albeit in another role) and Broadway wildcard Raul Esparza. And this past Sunday, I opened the Times to see this:
And, well, there went my play boner.
I can see what they’re going for – the romance of the rose, fading into the modern plug, referring to the two time periods in which the play is set and maybe the romance/research idea. The background vaguely looks like handwriting on old paper, fading down to a more modern clean white. And the red, simple, slightly old-timey font. It should all work. And yet, it somehow all comes together to look like the cover of a romance novel you can safely read on the subway.
I mean, admit it, if you took that same red font and changed it to say ‘The Randy Researchers: A Love Throughout Time’, it wouldn’t look that wrong, right? There’s something about this whole thing that is just… off.
First of all, it must be noted that this is a suprisingly British-looking artwork for an American production. For those who are vaguely offended by this but wondering what exactly that means, all I mean is that British theatre posters (and book covers) tend to favor a certain… shininess. Edges are clean, everything is a little more ‘in focus’ – it’s as though the Brits printed everything on high-resolution photo paper while Americans printed theirs on handmade artisinal flax paper. American bold and blocky graphics usually fall way to airbrushed shading and reflections – take, for example, the difference between the American and British posters for ‘Wicked’:
See what I mean? ‘Arcadia’s poster looks distinctly British, even more so than the art for the actual British production, which I like much better:
The British look of the poster is by no means what makes it such a dud – being American, I tend to prefer the American aesthetic, but I think both sides of the pond produce great artwork. What makes this a loser is that Arcadia is a complex, intricately drawn play about connection, fate, theory, math (if you don’t believe me about the complexity of the play, the first sentence of the wikipedia summary is “Arcadia is a 1993 play by Tom Stoppard concerning the relationship between past and present and between order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge”). This poster is a Frankenposter of reductive cliches – I can just imagine and old-timey Ad Man chomping on a stogie saying “What’s the play about? Math? Ugh, unsexy. Isn’t there any romance in it? Sort of? Great, we’ll put a big rose front and center, the ladies love romance. And let’s put a little computerized wash over it so it looks like a sketch, but less like it looks like a real sketch and more like a computerized washed sketch. And it’s modern day too? Fine, let’s add something…. computery, like, uh, a plug or something. Print!!”
I’m not saying that the poster for ‘Arcadia’ needs to include all of its many elements – I don’t think that would even be possible. But it does deserve better than a poster that makes it look like you will be spending an evening with heaving bosoms, ripped bodices, and a dastardly sexy rogue instead of an evening enjoying one of the most finely wrought, intelligent and moving plays of our time.