Working Title frolics in Arcadia

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Atlanta play development group Working Title Playwrights begins 2008's installment of the Second Sunday Playreading Group with a public reading of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard -- one of my favorite plays by one of my favorite playwrights. The free reading and discussion will be held Sunday, Jan. 13, at 1 p.m. at Wordsmith Books in Decatur.

Stoppard always takes a playful approach to some of the most heady subject matter imaginable. Arcadia takes place at an English country house and cuts back and forth between 1809 and present to touch on such themes as chaos theory, literary scholarship and English landscape gardening. That said, it's still a warm and touching play, one that doesn't neglect the heart while engaging the intellect.

I've seen Arcadia three times, including stagings at the Alliance Theatre and Onstage Atlanta, but my favorite, not surprisingly, was the New York production at Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont in 1995. I don't get up to New York much, and this was the centerpiece of a trip my wife and I took to celebrate a Significant Birthday. The most famous names in the production were Blair Brown and Robert Sean Leonard, although I recognized the young Billy Crudup and have been following his work ever since.

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It turns out that the cast was even more stellar than I realized at the time. I was just now looking at the program, which I've kept as a souvenir for more than a decade, and lo and behold, the production also featured not just Victor Garber of "Alias" and Titanic, but Paul Giamatti! One of the great character actors of contemporary American cinema, who carried terrific leading turns in American Splendor and Sideways! I can't believe it -- I saw Paul Giamatti on stage, and didn't even realize it until this morning.

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