By Geary Danihy
What if, for all of us, there is a single act that, once done, reverberates down the corridors of our lives? For Peter, (Michael Laurence), a thirty-something psychologist, that act was running away from Kari (Tracy Middendorf) after getting her pregnant. Twenty years later he returns for a high school class reunion seeking not just to make amends for that action but perhaps to alter time so the couple might start over and live the life they were supposed to live…together.
This is the basic premise of The Pavilion, a somewhat overwritten but essentially enjoyable play by Craig Wright that recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Peter and Kari’s meeting at the reunion, held in a pavilion, a local landmark slated for destruction at the conclusion of the festivities (and a metaphor for an aging universe that will fall prey to entropy only to be reborn), is overseen by the Narrator (Michael Milligan), a stage manager with cosmic connections who opens the play with a monologue that, though it at times borders on New Age babble, provides a philosophical framework for Peter’s attempt to undo what has been done in time.
I doubt the audience “got” a lot of what the Narrator was attempting to say, but the flow of words as delivered by Milligan, enhanced by Clifton Taylor’s lighting design and sound effects by Ryan Rumery, was, oddly enough, like a lullaby, pleasing in a soporific sort of way.
This is perhaps not the effect Wright intended, but it does set the mood for a first act that takes its own sweet time taking flight. As Keri and Peter meet and she initially rejects having anything to do with him, the pavilion becomes filled with other members of the graduating class, all played with a great deal of zest and humor by Milligan, although many of the “people” he brings to life are more caricature than character.
It is not until the end of the first act, when the audience learns the true nature of Peter’s betrayal, that the play slips into warp drive. This energy carries over into Act Two, which rushes forward as Keri and Peter attempt to understand the past, seek some resolution and eventually face the reality that you can never go home again – this is the only universe you have been given to live in and time, unfortunately (at least in the play) is linear.
The cast is, across the board, excellent. Laurence and Middendorf do their “dance of the estranged couple” with finesse and emotional nuance, especially in the latter part of the play as Kari finally offers forgiveness, though not letting Peter totally off the hook – there’s more than a bit of sting in her extended description of her most recent bit of lovemaking with her golf-obsessed husband. It falls to her, as the Narrator stands knowingly behind them, to temper Peter’s dream of reinventing themselves with a bit of universal truth.
In a haunting scene at the play’s conclusion, Peter and Kari depart the pavilion, leaving the Narrator to morph into perhaps 10 or 15 different characters, each in some form of denial about the past, what he or she has become and his or her place in the universe. These final moments as performed by Milligan are a tour de force that captures the emptiness in many lives, an emptiness caused by actions taken in the past.
A rain drop “falls” (it’s the controlling image in the play), the theater goes dark and the audience members are left to ponder, if only for a moment, their own place in the cosmos.
The Pavilion runs through Saturday, May 31. For tickets or more information call 227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org. To learn what other critics think of the production or to see what’s playing at theaters throughout Connecticut, go to www.ctcritics.org.
(This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen-News.)