The Philadelphia premiere of Craig Wright's new play, "The Pavilion" starts off with a lengthy, poetic monologue by The Narrator, played by Joe Schulz. It is an overview of the creation of the universe which then brings us to this particular moment in time -- the present, the evening of Pine City, Minnesota's 20th High School reunion. We are in an old wooden dance hall called "The Pavilion" which after this evening's festivities will be burnt down by the local fire department. It will eventually be replaced by a modern concrete entertainment/sports complex. The play centers on the reunion of Peter (David Ingram) and Kari (Grace Gonglewski), high school sweethearts, who broke up when Peter went off to college leaving Kari alone and pregnant. They haven't seen each other in twenty years. They have both had relatively unsettled lives. Peter, a psychologist, has never married and is currently with a very, young girlfriend. Kari married her current husband, Hans, a golf pro, on the rebound and there is tension in their marriage because she cannot bring herself to have a child with him. From the outset, Peter views this reunion as a second chance for him, while Kari only wants to distance herself from the pain of the past. Hence the conflict of the evening.
However, there are peripheral characters which provide most of the comic relief in the form of a minor subplot. These characters, both men and women, are charmingly depicted by Joe Schulz. Angie, who is married to Kent, the local Chief of Police, is pregnant by Cookie, the town pot-head. Kent searches for Cookie throughout the evening, swearing that he will kill him when he finds him. He eventually does find Cookie but ends up getting high with him, instead of killing him, much to everyone's relief.
The dialogue between the two main characters smacks of fresh realism, and is by turns both funny and poignant, encompassing many layers of emotion. But for me, the play never evolves into anything more than a story about choices. Peter made his choice when he knowingly abandoned Kari when she most needed him. Now, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot make amends. And because of all the time that has elapsed (there is much talk about time in this play) -- no matter how romantic his notions, he cannot recapture the magic of that time when they were both so young and so in love. It is a play about roads not taken and about love that is never fully realized. For surely if Peter had loved Kari as fully as he thought he had -- he never would have abandoned her, simply because his father told him to. Did Romeo abandon Juliet? Did Heloise abandon Abelard? Only death or horrific circumstance can part true lovers. And so I find the character of Peter hard to empathize with. He went off to college, became a psychologist and never looked back. Twenty years later he has regrets? He's now living with a woman half his age and he has no kids. (Being married with children myself, somehow this doesn't sound so terrible to me.) On the other hand, Kari didn't choose to have the baby, but had an abortion instead. She then married a decent fellow who is very protective of her but she can't seem to return his love. She can't bring herself to fully share her life with him by having children. Her character is easier to sympathize with, but would have been even more so, had she wanted children but was unable to produce them. Ultimately, I really didn't feel much for these characters. Not what I think the playwright intended. This is a sad play, at times a tender one, but surely not tragic.
The cast of three actors do an admirable job of the material. They are all by turns warm, funny, angry and hopeful. The direction is sensitive and events flow at an even smooth pace that seems a propos of the piece. The set, by Daniel Conway, of various rounded wooden levels has a quiet elegance, as do the costumes by Alison Roberts. And the original acoustic guitar music which accompanies much of the playcomposed and performed by Christopher Colucciprovides a welcome dimension.
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