Theater Review: 'The Pavilion,' the Debut Production of the Hub Theatre
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A play that has piercing silences is a play that's in good hands. So it's happy news that "The Pavilion," the inaugural production by the Hub Theatre, a new Northern Virginia company, contains wordless moments so trenchant they seemingly could puncture a hardwood stage.
First produced in 2000, Craig Wright's lyrical, bittersweet "Pavilion" depicts a strained meeting between two former high school sweethearts. In director Jeremy Skidmore's sterling staging for the Hub, this encounter becomes an aching fugue of hope, anger and disappointment, as resonant in its awkward pauses as in its hesitant conversational forays.
Not that "The Pavilion" strums only in a wistful key. Wright has surrounded his long-estranged couple, Kari (Niki Jacobsen) and Peter (the terrific Tim Getman), with amusingly quirky characters, from a paranoid, pot-smoking small-town mayor to the star employee of a for-profit suicide hotline. When these former Minnesota classmates convene for their 20th reunion at a lakeside dance hall, gossip swirls and blood-alcohol levels climb -- while, on the sidelines, Peter attempts to reconcile with Kari, whom he dumped during senior year in exceptionally brutal fashion.
In a stroke of dramaturgical thriftiness, Wright ("Melissa Arctic," the TV series "Dirty Sexy Money") charges a "Pavilion" character known as the Narrator with portraying all of Peter and Kari's fellow alums. In Skidmore's production -- which unspools on set designer Robbie Hayes's poignantly stark assemblage of pale wood columns, railings and floorboards -- actor Jason Lott handles the task with wit and flair. There he is as Pudge, the suicide-hotline pro, with stooped posture and a cackling laugh; minutes later, he's wriggling his hips as the gung-ho reunion coordinator, Lisa; then he's standing poker-straight as the cynical minister Smoke, with half-closed eyelids and a martyred expression.
The actor also does a graceful job delivering the rhapsodically poetic speeches of the Narrator himself, which place the reunion in cosmic perspective ("The tiny tea leaf of consciousness spreads its bittersweet smoke through the sea of the primitive mind . . . "). When the Narrator functions as an imperious stage manager, calling for cues, Lott gets to bask in the achievements of designers Dan Covey (whose dappled and pastel lighting intensifies the show's appealing romanticism) and Matthew Nielson (whose sound effects include lapping waves, a screeching mike and reunion-appropriate vintage pop music).
All those assets -- and the comfort of the Tysons Corner venue, 1st Stage, which opened last September -- would be moot were the Peter-Kari relationship not compelling.
Jacobsen could stand to reveal a few more facets of Kari's personality: She emphasizes the character's bitterness, but barely hints at any lovable traits. Compensating for that shortcoming, though, is Getman's quietly desperate Peter, the production's ace card. The actor packs emotion into his deceptively low-key, overeducated-Joe-Six-Pack intonations. And he wrings so much suspense and anguish from silences, you'd think muteness were an actor's key tool.
The Pavilion, by Craig Wright. Directed by Jeremy Skidmore; costume design, Erin Nugent. About 2 hours. Through June 7 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., McLean. Call 703-674-3177 or visit http:/