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A CurtainUp Review

The Pavilion
by Kathryn Osenlund

The waves that push up through history are the same waves that push up through us
--- Narrator
The Arden Theatre Company's season opens with the Philadelphia premiere of The Pavilion, held on their second stage, the Arcadia. This is a simple story with cosmic underpinnings. The cutest couple in high school turn up separately for their 20th high school reunion held at the Pavilion, which is slated for demolition after the last dance.

It's where they used to hold the high school dances. The audience is asked to imagine the large, ornate gazebo, for the stage is a simple, wooden circular platform that looks like a big round picnic table with ends on it. Something happened in the past and the former sweethearts have not seen each other since they were seventeen. Kari (Grace Gonglewski) doesn't want anything to do with Peter, but Peter (David Ingram) wants Kari to start over with him. Kari is married to a golf pro who thinks about golf even when they're in bed. But Kari can't let go of what happened with Peter years ago.

There are three actors. The third is the narrator (Joe Schulz). I wondered why Joe Schulz, who had so ably played Einstein in Picasso at the Lapin Agile last season (lso directed by Aaron Posner) , had taken the part of the narrator. Hard times, I thought. But no. The part is a gem that calls for tremendous versatility. The narrator plays himself and the dozen or so other characters in the play.

The play begins, Michener-like, with the narrator creating the universe, the world, tracing family histories, and placing the protagonists in Pine City, Minnesota. This is a play about time and about a person's place in time and space. "At the center of everything in the universe," the narrator tells us, "there's you." He sets the scene and provides commentary as we go along, aligning the characters, their situation, life, time and a kind of reality that includes the members of the audience, as he looks for "the tiny tea leaf of consciousness." There is a "warm corona of indiscriminate sounds" in the pavilion. Part of the sound is welcome, old-fashioned acoustic guitar music. The old high school class arrives, some with spouses "who came only out of spite". Then the narrator becomes various male andd female guests at the reunion,, presenting at times hysterical caricatures, like the woman who asks, "Want some words to live by? Here's two: Never forgive."

During intermission an audience member was overheard saying that when the play started and he saw the bare stage and understood that the play is about the past, he thought it would be like Our Town and he'd be bored. But as he put it, " mercifully it isn't. It looks good."" Sorry Thornton, certainly yours was good, but who wants to sit through Our Town again?

This play, about "memory's undertow, forward and back," follows the former lovers' evening and we wonder if they will dance the sweetheart dance at midnight. Just as Peter is about to give up and leave, the narrator intervenes and makes a shooting star. Kari calls Peter over to see it. "In human history," the narrator says, "every little thing makes a difference." But Kari believes that you get just one shot in life and the universe would have to start over for her to be able to leave the past in its place. There is a moment in the past that she wants to keep and there is a moment she can't forgive. We are warned, "Hold on to the past even out of love and it will tear you to shreds. This universe will tear you to shreds".

David Ingram is very engaging and real as he delivers a finely-tuned performance as Peter opposite Grace Gonglewski's strong, maybe too strong Kari. Joe Schultz gives a virtuoso performance as everybody else. There is a tension between the "real" characters of the two leads, the caricature portrayals of the other characters, and the narrator function, for all these characters operate on different planes.

I was curious to see The Pavilion because Aaron Posner selects interesting plays and does good work with them. He directed the world premiere of this play in Pittsburgh last year and according to the program note was attracted to the play because "I love all the funny, complex, damaged, sad, lovely, incredibly human people that Craig {Wright} has found to populate it, with all their flaws, because of their flaws, I think".

Practically Pirandello-like, Peter goes to the narrator to see if the universe can be started over. Is the Michener thing going to happen again? Ok, is this existential? What is going on? I expected there would be more to this play, and waited an act and a half for the other shoe to drop. But there is no other shoe. It's a simple story and what you see is what you get, but you have to understand what you're getting-- and what you get is plenty entertaining.

The Pavilion
by Craig Wright
Directed by Aaron Posner
Cast: Joe Schultz, David Ingram, Grace Gonglewski
Scenic Design: Daniel Conway
Lighting Design: James Leitner
Musician/Composer Christopher Colucci
Costume Design: Alison Roberts Running time2 hours with one intermission Arden Theatre Company, 40 North 2nd Street, 215.922.8900
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 09/20performance

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