nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 15, 2005
If you could go back in time and change a decision you made, would things actually change? The fact is, even if you went back and changed your decision, you can’t change who you were at that time. Change can only happen with time. The same goes for forgiveness. Craig Wright’s 2000 play The Pavilion is a beautiful reflection on forgiveness, change, and the nature of destiny. This play is highly deserving of its Pulitzer nomination and many regional productions. This raises the question, why has it taken five years for its New York premiere?
“This is a play about time,” the narrator tells us at the top of the show after a poetic musing of the creation of the universe; a universe that swirls around each of us individually at any given moment. The universe of this play is a small town called Pine City, Minnesota. The pavilion of the title is a 100-year-old lakeside dance hall that holds countless memories for the locals and is the venue for the 20-year reunion of the class of 1985.
At the center of this universe are “the senior class’s cutest couple” Kari and Peter. There are dozens of other classmates in attendance, all played by the narrator, but their stories are merely supplemental. The issue at the densely packed center of this story is an unchangeable and almost unforgivable event that distorted Kari and Peter’s lives. 20 years ago, Kari became pregnant with Peter’s child and Peter made the cowardly and tragic mistake of running away. Naturally she has never forgiven him, and so when she sees him at this reunion she is understandably cold toward him. As the story unfolds we see how unhappy they are with their lives and we begin to root for reconciliation between the two.
The question is, is that even possible? Are we given only one chance in life to do things right? Are we given only one person or one true love with whom to make things right? I’m not sure, and neither is Wright, but he makes a good point when he contends that the universe is constantly beginning again. So even if we mess things up the first time we may still have a chance to start over.
Craig Wright is an absolutely brilliant playwright. I was enthralled by every word. The Pavilion is funny, moving, poetic, and poignant. Wright is following the trend that marks a return to Theatricalism, led by playwrights such as Tony Kushner and initiated by greats such as Thornton Wilder. His structuring of this play sucks you into his world while at the same time never letting you forget that you’re in the theatre. Wright’s two main characters are as real as your neighbors, while the narrator character walks the line between reality and make-believe.
The narrator, played with multifaceted subtlety by Stephen Bogardus, is in and out of the action at any given moment. He takes on multiple characters, speaks to the audience, or asks the light board operator for mood lights. Bogardus’s stage presence here is relentless. He is the universe that spins around Kari and Peter. Brian D’Arcy James plays Peter with the honesty and tragedy of a man seeking absolution but somewhere deep inside expects none. Jennifer Mudge as Kari is sly and exceedingly sincere. It is easy to believe that Peter fell in love with her the moment he saw her. Her monologue in the second act brought audible sniffles from the house (including her own). All the acting is truly second to none.
Director Lucie Tiberghien does a fabulous job guiding the flow of this play. In some moments she creates spaces between lines, allowing us to see the actors drifting off in thought, while at other times the pace is like a championship game of ping-pong. I particularly liked the way she had the narrator slide props into the actors’ hands. Christophe Tiberghien provides the show with some live and very enchanting original piano music that sounds like a tinkling always somewhere in the background. Matt Richards’s lighting design is quite nice-looking and versatile enough to provide the narrator anything he asks for.
The Pavilion is a well-rounded and balanced theatrical experience. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s real and not real, and it’s smart. It should not be missed.