What Hath Wilder Wrought?
by Bob & Karen Isaacs
With substantial echoes of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Skin of Our Teeth, playwright Craig Wright’s Pavilion is getting a nicely staged production at Westport Country Playhouse. However, Wright’s play, under the direction of Chad Rabinovitz, proves to be pretentious and often confusing, since it takes a simple story and fills it with heavy-duty philosophical points. Also, the use of the narrator is the main contributor to the confusion since he plays a variety of characters both male and female besides filling us in on any details and relationships between the cosmos and the situation.
Basically, Peter has returned to his hometown, Pine City, Minnesota, to attend a 20th reunion only to find that the landmark facility, The Pavilion, is to be torn down and replaced with an arena. Also attending the reunion is Peter’s former girlfriend, Kari, who, as we find out, had been left by Peter 20 years ago pregnant. As you can guess she is less than fond of Peter and wants to have nothing to do with him. The story circles around these two and Peter’s attempt to connect again while the narrator, playing a variety of roles, makes observations and suggestions to each of them.
The key to this work is the observation that what has been done cannot be undone. It is not the idea of “you can't go home again" but the more philosophical concept that you can't change what has been done in the past. Ultimately you must accept it and go on. To make this point, Wright and Rabinovitz find it find it necessary to reach out into the infinite and bring in concepts that are truly too large for this small issue.
The difference here between what Wilder attempted is that Wilder in Skin is dealing with large concepts that fit very well into a cosmic presentation.
Michael Laurence as Peter gives a solid performance, capturing the bewilderment of a person who is returning to a changed and changing situation and also a sense of contrition for his previous action. He should not be amazed that Kari cannot forgive and thus they cannot change the world in which they now live.
Tracy Middendorf as Kari provides an attractive individual who has been hurt and cannot forgive the perpetrator. In fact early on she lets it be known that had she been aware of Peter’s intention to attend she would not have been there. And despite all of Peter’s protestations, she is adamant and unforgiving.
Michael Milligan as the narrator has a hefty job and either the director is incorrect in trying to load all those roles on him or he is not up to capturing the variety of personalities necessary. Occasionally he rises to the occasion; often when he needs to portray a woman the viewer is not sure of what is happening and some of his switches between characters is confusing. Certainly this can be easily fixed with the inclusion of a fourth performer. However, this clarity might well work against the very essence of the play, since much of is presented self-consciously by the narrator who offers some comic relief and attempts to draw in the audience.
Ultimately, despite the pretentiousness of the play, Pavilion provides interesting theater, demonstrating some of the magic theater is supposed to present. The problem is that the playwright and director work too hard and obviously to present the magic in a vehicle that is too slight for the effort.
Helping to create some of the illusion, Hugh Landwehr has designed a bare stage and a great ramp that seems to lead to the infinite. He is abetted by the excellent lightning design of Clifton Taylor.
Pavilion is at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, through May 31. For tickets online westportplayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177.
(Appeared in Shore Publications.)