- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

"The Pavilion" is a far-reaching play about time and memory and the murky tricks both play on our minds.
Craig Wright's haunting work, given a passionate rendering at Round House Theatre under the direction of Jerry Whiddon, takes place at a 20-year high school reunion in the fictional lakeside town of Pine City, Minn. The plot may seem like small potatoes, but Mr. Wright, like playwright Tom Stoppard, is agile at nesting simple life dramas within larger meditations on science and metaphysics.
Like Mr. Stoppard's "Arcadia" and "The Invention of Love," "The Pavilion" at once tugs at the heartstrings and lights up those neocortical circuits that process difficult, abstract ideas. Mr. Stoppard's witty wordplay is cooler, more cerebral, than Mr. Wright's humor, which rises out of human foibles, but both excel at funny, ardent plays that make the audience feel smart.
From the beginning, you know you're not in for a typical, cozily emotional reunion play. The narrator (Marty Lodge) comes out onto the raked wooden stage and launches into an opening soliloquy about the origins of the universe a speech that is voluptuously, unapologetically poetic. Phrases such as "this is the way the universe begins a still pool of listening minds" and "a world made of stars, dancing" shimmer as Mr. Lodge swoops from the primordial ooze to present-day Pine City, on the shores of Lake Melissa, by way of the Renaissance and the Scandinavian settling of Minnesota.
The setting is an old dance pavilion, set to be razed at midnight to make way for a concrete amphitheater that will play host to big country-music shows. Meanwhile, there is the business of the high school reunion.
Mr. Lodge gracefully morphs into the various attendees: Pudge, who is milking money off a national suicide hot line; Cookie, the philandering pothead mayor; Karla, an embittered wife; and the stock drunks, empty-hearted career girls, spouses with roving eyes and unchanged salt-of-the-earth types who populate the typical reunion. Some of the characters are touching, some are pathetic, but Mr. Lodge gives them all their due and he deftly executes those dorky 80s dance steps, too.
Peter (Aaron Shields) and Kari (Jane Beard), once voted the cutest couple in high school, haven't laid eyes on each other in 20 years. He has been buffeted by the vagaries of life, while she has been moldering in the safety deposit vault at the bank where she works.
Peter comes armed with flowers and a guitar. He is a schlumpy Charlie Brown type but a schlump with a guitar. He wants to return to a time when his life worked, when he was happy and that was with Kari.
But what does Kari want? Defensive and bristly, she blames her high school love for all the trouble in the universe, and crabgrass, too. Her rancor is justified, but in clinging to her grudge for 20 years, she has punished herself more than her old boyfriend.
Both of them ache to be set free. As the two rifle through the detritus of their past, you are caught between the romantic dream that maybe they are destined to be together and the reality that time doesn't change direction at our convenience.
The play oscillates between the high-flown poetry of the narration and the chuckling comedy of the reunion. It is a stark contrast, made even starker by Mr. Shields' and Miss Beard's strident performances. The intensity of their acting seems harsh, jarring when you realize the play is about coming together and those miraculous moments in life when you are granted not a second chance, but a chance to make things clear and strong.
One such moment does arrive at the end of the play, when the two melt together for the "Sweetheart Dance" at midnight. They fit perfectly in each other's arms, and for the duration of this one song, they feel as if they are the only people in the world. However, they dance not as a couple, but as themselves Kari wants this moment to go on forever; Peter wants to stop time.
"The Pavilion," after all, is a play about time. How easy life is when time is your friend, when time pushes on and you are keeping pace with it like a puppy at its master's heels. How sad life is when you try to master time, make it do what it cannot do go backward and let you begin a universe all over again.

***
WHAT: "The Pavilion" by Craig Wright
WHERE:
Round House Theatre, East-West Highway and Waverly Street, Bethesda
WHEN:
7:30 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Through March 2.
TICKETS:
$27 to $36
PHONE:
240/644-1100
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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