There's Shakespeare, and then there's Tom Stoppard.

Swine Palace Artistic Director George Judy believes Stoppard commands contemporary language as well as Shakespeare did in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Stoppard's 1966 tragicomedy, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," is considered a timeless classic. But his 1993 drama, "Arcadia," has been called a masterpiece.

"It's considered to be the greatest play of the 20th century," Judy says. "It's thought to be Stoppard's finest."

Swine Place is bringing Stoppard's finest to the stage, opening Feb. 16 in LSU's Claude L. Shaver Theatre. Pay-what-you-can and preview performances are Feb. 14-15.

"Arcadia" takes place in two completely different time periods in Sidley Park, a 19th-century English country house in Derbyshire.

One story plays out between 1809 and 1812, while the other simultaneously takes place in present day.

In the 19th century, there's precocious teenager Thomasina Coverly, the daughter of the house, who's developing ideas about mathematics, nature and physics well ahead of her time. Her tutor is Septimus Hodge, a friend of Lord Byron.

Meanwhile, in the present, writer Hannah Jarvis and literature professor Bernard Nightingale investigate a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron. They are joined by Valentine Coverly, a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, who helps them uncover the events in Thomasina's time.

"Everything happens around a large table," says Judy, who is directing. "Both sets of characters gather around it, and in the end, their worlds converge. The play explores three major themes: time, nature and space."

Judy believes this Stoppard play is perfect for a university setting because of its intersection of art and science.

"We're going to have a short science talk before each performance, where we've invited faculty members from the science departments on campus to speak," Judy says. "'Arcadia' is beautiful in how it deals with its many themes of finding order in the chaos."

Playing on opposite ends of the simultaneous stories are Glenn Aucoin as Septimus Hodge, who is the tutor and friend of Lord Byron, and Mike DiSalvo as modern day professor Bernard Nightengale.

Aucoin is a New Orleans-based professional actor, while DiSalvo, of New York, is midway through his first year in the LSU School of Theatre's Master of Fine Arts Program.

"Septimus was school friends with Lord Byron," Aucoin says. "He was competitive with Byron, and he found that he could easily win women. He's tutoring Thomasina, but he's also in love with her mother."

"He can be almost amoral," Aucoin says. "He has an existential philosophy, which isolates him. He gets what he wants and doesn't feel bad about it."

His modern-day counterpart, Nightingale, seeks something different.

"He's a Bryon scholar and a passionate blowhard," DiSalvo says. "He thinks he knows why Byron left England and disappeared for two years, and he wants to find proof because he's desperate to make a name for himself."

DiSalvo describes Nightingale as a guy others would find entertaining during the first two rounds at a bar.

"After that, you just want him to stop and go away," DiSalvo says, laughing.


A Swine Palace production

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16-18 and Feb. 20-25, Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Pay-what-you-can Feb. 14; preview Feb. 15

WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre, LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive

TICKETS/INFO: $32; $22, seniors, faculty and staff; $17, students. (225) 578-3527 or Tickets also available at the door.

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.