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The Pavilion

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Dusty Brown and Julie Voshell
Photo by Tea For Two Photography

"This is a play about time," insists the heart-sore and regretful Peter, who longs to reverse the past two decades of his life in The Barrow Group's production of Craig Wright's The Pavilion, a complexly-wrought work that stirs together lyrical musings about the universe with comic characterizations, all in service to the touching and bittersweet romance that lies at its core.

The Pavilion, dating from 2000, is not an easy play to pull off successfully. Not that it demands much in the way of technical support. It employs a simple set and a cast of three, which may help explain why it has received a good many regional productions over the years. But textually, it is as delicate as a spiderweb. Go too far with the lyricism and you wind up with something that is totally pretentious. Go too far with your portrayal of the exaggerated mannerisms of the peripheral characters, and you draw the audience's attention away from Peter (Dusty Brown) and Kari (Julie Voshell), who have arrived separately at the Minnesota dance hall known as The Pavilion for their twentieth high school reunion.

High school reunions are notorious for provoking gossip, nostalgia, foolishness, and yearning among the participants. From the time Peter and Kari—who once reigned as the "cutest senior couple" but who have long since parted ways—arrive on the scene, Peter strives to win Kari back. His life seems to have fallen off the track, and he believes deeply that the only thing that can make it right is to pick up with Kari where they left off. To that end, he offers gifts of flowers, candy, and the performance of a soulful ballad (composed by Peter Lawton, with lyrics by the playwright) that serves as a tribute to the band he formerly played in back in the day. For her part, Kari does not want to have anything to do with him. The past is the past, and even though her own life has been marked by disappointment, she resists Peter's efforts to reconnect.

The story of Peter and Kari carries the weight of the plot, and anyone susceptible to romance will be both rooting for and wary of what will happen with them over the course of the evening. But the pair are not the only ones at the reunion. Each runs into many of their classmates, all of whom—male and female—are played by the same actor who also serves as the play's fourth-wall-breaking narrator. In this case, it is the versatile Seth Barrish who switches chameleon-like from character to character by latching onto recognizable if cartoonish quirks and foibles that define the celebrants as they contemplate their own mid-lives, brag, complain, and offer up unsolicited advice.

Between the gossip, the boasting, and the bitter confessions of the Class of 1981, what everyone wants to know is, will Kari leave with Peter to pick up where they left off? Will the omniscient and omnipresent narrator, who starts the evening by addressing the audience with a convoluted speech about the beginning of the universe, be willing and able to grant Peter's wish to turn back time—this being a play about time, after all?

Under the joint direction of Lee Brock and Alyson Schacherer, the three performers mostly manage to avoid the potholes of pretentiousness and cheap shots, and, especially when the play focuses its eye on Peter and Kari as they fumble their way toward resolution, the universe smiles down on us all.

The Pavilion
Through June 28
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, with one intermission
Barrow Group Theatre, 312 West 36th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix

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