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A CurtainUp Review
The Pavilion

I guessed the wrong keyes, I battered on the wrong panels, I picked the wrong roads. O God, ain't there no way to guess again and start all over back where I had the keys in my hand, back where the roads all came together and I had my Pick? --- a line from "Ambassador of Grace" by Carl Sandburg.

Brian D'Arcy James & Jennifer Mudge
Brian D'Arcy James & Jennifer Mudge
(Photo: Richard Termine)
Craig Wright's Pulitzer Prize nominated The Pavilion, the second play in his Pine City plays, is well on its way to being one of those much produced small regional theater hits. The play's Off-Broadway premiere at the Rattlestick Theater is our third encounter with this lovely, touching dramatization of the memories and regrets -- not to mention metaphysical ruminations -- stirred up at a twentieth high school reunion in a Minnesota town.

This often poetic, quiet play is atypical for the Rattlestick which has become known for gritty and often tough to take plays like Finer Noble Gases. However, like the Miniature Theater of Chester in the Berkshires, the small West Village theater is ideally suited to the semi-abstract staging that works best for what is easy to perceive as a modern, miniaturized Our Town. But, as I noted when I first saw the play, Wright's Pine City, Minnesota is no copycat Grovers Corner. The reunion's setting, a wooden dance pavilion that is slated for demolition, is not only a symbol of Wright's concern with the relentless one directional movement of time but of the constantly changing landscape of our modern world. Add to that the fact that Wright's reunion features just three actors, and it's even clearer that we're in Wright's not Wilder's era -- an era when playwrights don't have the luxury of creating roles for a town-sized lineup of actors and minimalist casts, requiring minimal stage props are more likely to be produced than old-time dramas boasting at least half a dozen performers.

As I've seen and enjoyed more than one production of Our Town, I didn't feel any of the been there done that ennui during this new viewing of The Pavilion, especially with three new actors making the very most of these rich parts. Jennifer Mudge movingly captures the still red-hot anger of Kari, the housewife who is unable (or unwilling) to free herself from being trapped in a marriage to a man whose life is focused on his golf stroke. Brian D'Arcy James, last seen in a flamboyant multi-character playing part in Flight, demonstrates that he can handle the understated desperation of Peter, the other half of the "cutest couple" twenty years later. Since he is also a season musical theater performer (Titanic, The Sweet Smell of Success), director Lucie Tiberghien gives him a folk song interlude that makes you root for him to be able to go back in time and persuade the more earthbound Kari to leave her golf ball filled nest to experience a more fulfilling next twenty years of their lives. (Another distinct to this production musical touch, is the director's brother Christophe, discreetly positioned at a piano upstage, the music he composed and plays beautifully greatly enhancing the mood of regrets and wishes ).

Stephen Bogardus as Pine City's version of the town manager handles the lyrical narration, which could easily sound self-consciously poetic with convincing charm. He easily fits bits of stage directing into his narration and segues into the roles of other class members with delicacy and humor. The numerous people whose identities he so ably assumes include a fellow who makes his living working a 900-number suicide hotline; a woman whose marital motto is "never forgive!" and a minister who declares that men use up their prescribed number feelings the way women use up their eggs for making babies. Oh, yes, there's also a police chief out to kill the pot-smoking mayor who's sleeping with his wife.

Tasheki Kata's deep blue sky hued set and Matt Richard's expert lighting, add to the overall pleasures of the production. To read reviews of the first Pince city play, Molly Delicious, as well as those of previous Pavilion productions, see the links below. (Mr. Wright's concerns have also been evident in his contributions to the television series Six Feet Under.)

The Pavilion-Philadelphia
The Pavilion-Berkshires
Molly Delicious

By Craig Wright
Directed by Lucie Tiberghien
Cast: Stephen Bogardus (Narrator), Brian D'Arcy James (Peter) and Jennifer Mudge (Kari). The Pavilion
Set Design: Takeshi Kata
Costume Design: Mimi O'Donnell
Lighting Design: Matt Richards
Composer/pianist: Christophe Tiberghien

Running time: 2 hours including one 10-minute intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (west of 7th Avenue between West 11th & Perry Streets), SmartTix 212-868-4444
From 9/09/05 to 10/09/05; opening 9/20/05.
Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00PM and Sunday at 3:00PM.
Tickets: $42
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on September 21st performance
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