“This is a play about time,” the Narrator of The Pavilion announces. And “time” here is both an intriguing theme an theatrical snag. The Pavilion is the latest entertainment offering of Next Act Theatre. Although the play has moments of genuine humor, literary beauty and acting prowess, overall, the production’s full-size sheet felt stretched out over a queen-size bed.
The plot of The Pavilion is a simple one. It’s the summer of 2000 and Pine City, Minnesota is having it’s twenty year high school reunion. Peter has returned to his home town to win back the heart of Kari, his high school love. Twenty years ago Peter skipped out on Kari to go to college, her pregnancy the reason for his abrupt exit. Kari was left alone and bitter to deal with her impending child. Now Peter is back, using the highschool reunion to make amends with Kari and rectify his now conscionable stupidity. The Pavilion, the old dance hall location where the class reunion of 1980 takes place, is also a metaphor for the universal covering under which we all interact. For interconnectedness, how everything we do, from whom we choose to love to every thought we think, has an affect and effect on everyone and everything else in the universe. It’s a rich and interesting concept but one that’s presented here with blocks of ennui I found difficult to ignore.
Angela Iannone (Narrator) watches over Mark Ulrich (Peter) and Mary MacDonald Kerr (Kari)
Mark Ulrich plays Peter. In less capable acting hands Peter could come across with a certain false pretense. But Ulrich takes his time with the role and plays it simply. The highlight of his performance comes when he presents Peter’s monologue about how and when he first fell in love with Kari. There’s an earnest gentleness to his delivery that defies anyone with a brain to lose their attention. Mary MacDonald Kerr, virtuoso director of Next Act’s past production of Going to St. Ives, plays Kari. Kerr, with the honesty and openness of someone with nothing to lose, does the best she can with the unsympathetic role of a character who blames the universe for her current marital and childless dilemma, but unfortunately just comes across as annoyingly petulant.
Director David Cecsarini puts his actors sufficiently, if tediously, through the emotional obstacle course of the plot. The blocking of the actors and the use of the performance space is well handled. Only once did I notice a clunky transition of character and play beat. It’s the pace of the performance as a whole that seemed to drag for me. The passages of beauty and clever dialogue are too few and far between to sustain the tempo the performance is at. I wanted the quick pace of Redding’s Land of A Thousand Dances and instead got Sledge’sWhen a Man Loves a Woman.
The Pavilion’s set and lighting design aptly meld to complement the very real and relentless tick-tick of time as well as the beautiful cosmic interconnectedness of us all. Besides a somewhat conceptually confusing, if efficient, scene change off the waterfront, the set is aesthetically pleasing and gives the actors plenty of creative freedom to perform.
If you feel moved to see The Pavilion, go for the enjoyable performances and universal themes. Just be sure to bring with you plenty of time for mindfulness.
Complete schedules and ticket information for all Milwaukee’s stages can be found at Footlights online.