by David Begelman
Craig Wright’s three-person play The Pavilion is set on a stage that seems too large for the drama unfolding on it. There are several huge windowed doors the Narrator swivels around to set the action at the beginning of the first and second acts. Then there is a broad raked expanse that soars to the heavens upstage. The three performers sometimes appear to be diminutive figures in this setting.
On the other hand, the play dwells on ideas that seem to call for something grander to accommodate its characters. And that is precisely its problem. As one of them, the Narrator waxes poetical about ongoing events that are described in a fustian way, seemingly out of whack with what is happening on stage. Nonetheless, he has the magic touch, dimming house lights and even changing time itself with a flick of the wrist. He oversees the action of the other characters.
From left, Michael Laurence and Michael Milligan in “The Pavilion” by Craig Wright.
Photo by Richard Termine.
The Narrator makes mountains out of molehills. His remarks, in the manner of a Greek chorus, dwell on the relationship between Peter and Kari. Peter is a part-time musician (he treats the audience at the Westport theater to a rendition of his newly composed ditty Down in the Ruined World on the guitar as though it were an assembled group within the play). He is also a therapist, while Kari is a past flame who had an abortion after Peter abandoned her. She is now in a loveless relationship with her husband, Hans.
When they reconnect, it is obvious Peter and Kari continue to have a thing for each other, although they come at it from very different perspectives while at the Pavilion, a dance-hall setting for the twenty-year reunion of their class of 1988. Peter is abjectly apologetic, regretting his past decision to abandon Kari, and wants her back. Kari refuses his overtures vehemently, as if her sentiments were recycled T. S. Eliot misgivings: After such knowledge, what forgiveness? (Gerontion), not to mention the Shavian lament: Do you suppose that…what is done can be undone by repentance? (Man and Superman).
The aura of a British literary thing is unmistakable. At the outset of the action, the Narrator declares imperiously: “This is the way the universe begins,” as if Mr. Wright were reprising Eliot’s This is the way the world ends (The Hollow Men), albeit with a reverse spin.
Kari cannot forgive Peter. More important, she cannot go back to being with him, as though her basis for this were somehow templated in the universe, rather than in the realm of personal decision-making. Mr. Wright’s Narrator seems partial to Kari’s fatalistic approach. Despite his comic bent, he is really a colossal bore. His bon mots are hugely disproportionate to what is going on around him. Addicted to highfalutin talk, his speeches cover the universe, consciousness, morality, love, and forgiveness (not to mention such mouthfuls as Alexander and his Macedonians, blood and knowledge, and the birth of Christ). A bit over the top compared to such remarks of Kari as “I really hate golf.”
Sometimes the Narrator is given to tautologies that seem to embody an elusive wisdom: “In the middle of life we find ourselves alive.” At other times, he lapses into incoherence, as when he reminds us that reality is “An infinite number of centers in an infinite number of worlds.” Come again? The comment sounds like someone accidentally wandered into a physics seminar and got the heady palaver about parallel universes all bollixed up.
Pavilion smacks of a strain that possibly hearkens back to Craig Wright’s stint at a Minnesota seminary. The dialogue hints at a bias for predestination, the idea that the end is already stamped into everything at the outset. Hence, Kari’s conviction that reuniting in a love relationship with Peter would go against some kind of cosmic blueprint: “For you and I to start over, the whole universe would have to start over.”
This just doesn’t ring true. After all, is it the universe or only personal inclination that makes our love relationships possible or not? Is it cosmic time that breaks one’s heart, or is it one’s free decision to have it that way? The playwright’s conviction that he has authored a drama “about a problem that was unsolvable” speaks volumes about the spin he elects to put on the world his characters inhabit.
As the Narrator, Peter, and Kari, Michael Milligan, Michael Laurence, and Tracy Middendorf all put in engaging performances. The scene between Peter and Kari at the opening of the second act was well crafted by the playwright, and both performers did a credible job of transitioning from Kari’s aloofness to another, more intimate level of her relationship to Peter. Ms. Middendorf tended to be a bit screechy at the higher vocal register, although there is no denying her talent in depicting a damaged and ambivalent lover.
Chad Rabinovitz’s direction was intelligent and accomplished, and the pacing of the show was just right for many of the nuances of interactions among the three characters. Hugh Landwehr’s scenic design was in sync with the playwright’s broader panorama of meanings (as well as being richly endowed with stars and Pavilion lights), while Clifton Taylor’s lighting accentuated marvelously the magic touch of the Narrator managing stage effects across time.
Pavilion was previewed at the well-appointed Westport Country Playhouse on May 13th, and officially opened on May 17th. Performances are on Tuesdays at 8 PM, Wednesdays at 2 and 8 PM, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 4 and 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Single tickets range from $30 to $55, while subscriptions for the remainder of the 2008 season start at $105. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (203)-227-4177, or on the Internet at www.WestportPlayhouse.org.
(This review will be published in The Citizen News of New Fairfield, CT.)