‘This is the way the universe begins.” So pronounces a congenially mysterious narrator (the dependably excellent Jeff Coté) in
the opening moments of Craig Wright’s 2000 drama The Pavilion, now playing at Cinnabar Theater.
A bittersweet morsel about fate, love and the choices we cannot undo, The Pavilion establishes from the start that we are always in the act of creating and destroying our own universes. As the narrator—sharing DNA with the stage manager from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town—guides the scenes, stepping in and out as a number of supporting characters, it is clear that we, the audience, are meant to think about our own choices, to recognize them as part of the grand neverending dance party of time and space. It is a poetic and ambitious goal, and at times, The Pavilion actually succeeds.
Unfortunately—unlike in Our Town, where a run-of-the-mill morning in Grover’s Corners really does become a metaphor for the lifespan of the entire human race—little that takes place in The Pavilion feels as earthshakingly profound as it clearly wants to, frequently bogging down in static predictability and simplistic character development. Despite this, there is an honest aching heart beating beneath Wright’s lyrical dialogue, and at times the power of the prose overcomes the script’s other weaknesses.
Directed by Tara Blau, the play is set during a 20-year high school reunion in the fictional town of Pine City, Minn. Peter (Nathan Cummings) and Kari (Sami Granberg) were once the cutest couple at school. Twenty years ago, Kari got pregnant, and Peter, frightened by the prospect of losing control of his life, fled Pine City, leaving Kari to deal with her crisis alone.
Now, after years of regret, he appears at the reunion—at the Pavilion, a soon-to-be demolished local landmark—with hopes of rekindling the relationship, but Kari, still seething with resentment, initially has no interest in seeing him or discussing the pain of those experiences so many years ago.
Cummings and Granberg, though fine actors clearly working at the top of their game here, have little fire or chemistry together, and both read far younger onstage than the 38-year-olds they are supposed to be, robbing the tale of much of its intended world-weary pathos. There is much that is moving and memorable about The Pavilion, but just like Peter and Kari’s hopes for their lives, I somehow expected a little bit more than I got.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½