How often do you think back to the people you knew—and more specifically to the people you loved—in high school. For me, and for all of the other castaways out there, the answer is “not ever,” but it is my understanding that I may well be highly unusual in that regard. Watching TV and movies or reading books makes me keenly aware that those four years are, for many people, very memorable, and their first real loves are often just waiting around in their memories for a moment when they need a quiet smile…or when their current flame just isn’t cutting it. Good or bad, those high school memories help to define us, even though we will never experience them again.
Unless, of course, we attend a reunion.
Reunions are often dreaded: we are all aware that people there compare lives with each other, and a lot of us are afraid to come up wanting. Artistic Home’s new production of Craig Wright’s 2005 The Pavilion understands and portrays this element, to be sure, but it is about much more. The Pavilion of the title, where this reunion is taking place, is an old town landmark that, immediately after this affair, will be torn down and replaced by a passionless concrete dance hall, forever leaving a hole in the townies’ memories, which will become even less real as the town, like all of them, moves on.
Sometimes, though, these memories themselves leave holes. That is the case with one-time Cutest Couple Kari (Kristin Collins, a highly likable performer whose very presence begs us to care about her) and Peter (John Mossman, in a performance that grounds his character in a gentle pathos), whose senior year breakup has haunted each of them for different reasons. When Peter suddenly moved away and left Kari in the lurch, it changed both of their worlds. Decades later, in 2000, on Peter’s first return to the old hometown since leaving, those worlds collide: the conviction he has been nurturing forever that he made the world’s biggest mistake, and the unadulterated anger she has been holding onto for the same amount of time. All in all, it isn’t the most auspicious of set-ups for anything romantic…not that Peter will be easily deterred.
There is a third actor involved here. Todd Wojcik plays the Narrator, who does, indeed, perform the duties of that role (even more, actually: he seems very much like Thornton Wilder’s Stage Manager in Our Town— controlling the action, stepping back from it to provide context, etc.). However, Wojcik is also called upon to provide the other context of the evening: the rest of the former classmates who are attending. I lost track of just how many characters he plays, but it is a lot. And he slips in and out of them, sometimes, in mid-sentence, letting a female confidante go in order to suddenly become, say, a ferociously angry husband who suspects his wife of cheating on him. (The scene near the end in which he has to play bits and pieces of pretty much every conversation in the place, switching among them like someone whose DID has been seriously exacerbated by an enormous dose of cocaine, is an absolute tour de force.)
When simply narrating, Wojcik frames The Pavilion as a cosmic truth. We all make decisions all the time, and those decisions confine and define us, becoming parts of how the universe sees us and acts around us. One of the simpler questions all of this begs is what might happen if we could somehow break out of the roles we have given ourselves. What if we could find a way, in other words, to change the universe?
(Yep, that’s one of the simpler philosophical conundrums facing our main couple as they work up to their inevitable collision on the dance floor.)
At its core, though, this is a story of the way time changes us all. Kari, twenty years on, is unhappily married to a man who ignores her in favor of golf. Peter has not married, his memory of what he foolishly threw away having haunted him. And death has played its own role: the popular band he once played in has been whittled down to only him; its other three members have died. At one point, Peter plays the last song that he and the penultimate surviving band member wrote. (Actually, it was written by Wright and Peter Lawton.) In any event, Mossman acquits himself well both playing and singing what is a highly emotional piece called “Down in the Ruined World,” perhaps an evocation of how both Kari and Peter see their lives.
But I’m giving you the wrong impression. Yes, there are some fascinating concepts being bandied about, and, yes, these characters’ lives are not going all that well, but this play is mostly sweet and down-to-earth, and it’s often very funny. You could, if you wish, not work hard at trying to understand the Universal Truths and Questions uttered by the narrator and just pay attention to his manic mini-portrayals of everyone else who is present and to the main couple as they (maybe?) work through their two-decade-old personal trauma. The philosophical stuff is fun and adds some layers, but this is really a very personal play. (The narrator says it is “a play about time,” and it is, but about how we define ourselves and change as time moves on.)
Director Julian Hester keeps things moving as the actors take advantage of Chas Mathieu’s simple partial-wall set (along with a chest that contains…things). Levi J. Wilkins’ lighting is lovely and even adds a touch of whimsy in its suggestions of shooting stars, while Petter Wahlback provides the nearly constant background of 80s songs along with occasional sound effects both terrestrial and not. Wright’s play (as well as this production) is a lovely construction. It argues that we may not be able to restart our lives or our universes, but we can make small adjustments to help our lives become better, and that’s no small thing.
The Pavilion is playing at the Den Theatre now through June 5. Tickets are available at The Artistic Home.