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THEATER BEAT

Big truths at a class reunion

August 29, 2008|F. Kathleen Foley; David C. Nichols

"This is the way the universe begins. A raindrop, that isn't really a raindrop, drops like a word. . . ." Those lines open Craig Wright's "The Pavilion," now at the Lyric Theatre. And therein lies a theme.

As the old adage has it, an entire universe can be observed in a drop of water. Wright's seriocomic play -- the second in a series set in small-town Pine City, Minn. -- encompasses cosmic truths within its deceptively modest format: a 10-year high school reunion held at a doomed dance pavilion.

One of the gathered "celebrators" -- if you can call this bittersweet get-together a celebration -- is the despondent and yearning Peter (Tim Hamelen), who has returned home to try to reconcile with his lost love Kathi (Kristin Chiles), the girl he betrayed and left behind.

"The Pavilion" has been hailed as a modern-day "Our Town" and the comparison is not misplaced. Like the Stage Manager in Wilder's play, a mysteriously omniscient Narrator (Chris Smith) orchestrates the action. And, like "Our Town," this is a play about time, the common struggle against inexorable loss and encroaching mortality.

It's all part of the larger human comedy. And, emulative of life itself, "The Pavilion" starts soberly, segues into farce, then ebbs into quiet acceptance. The first act is a comic romp, the second a poignant dialectic between Peter, trapped in a rash decision of his youth, and Kathi, whose life since Peter has been a courageous but empty show. Sporting outrageous wigs and obvious mustaches, the Narrator plays all subsidiary roles, male and female -- "comical" characters also grappling with the slippery hopes of youth, already wriggling from their grasps into the unrecoverable past.

Under Obren Milanovic's beautiful and sensitive direction, the actors are funny, real and heart-wrenching. Wright, although now a prolific television producer, is a creature of the theater by birthright, one of those important voices that come along, every so often, to remind us of the cathartic and transformative power of that medium.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"The Pavilion," Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 5. $20. (323) 939-9220. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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'Scaredycats' patrols suburbia

Reactionary unease is rampant in Southern California, hence "Scaredycats" at the Fremont Centre. As boulevard diversions go, the late Cheryl Bascom's view of suburban insecurity offers some big laughs, after a fashion.

It transpires in the living room of the Pudneys, a mismatched couple straight out of "Designing Women," for which Bascom was a writer. Textbook liberal Peter Pudney (Dan Wingard) strives to maintain reason in the face of gung-ho wife Christine (Julian Berlin). She advocates for a citizens patrol less from civic duty than to canoodle with hunky but inept Officer Melton (Bradley Snedeker). Their illicit relationship, revealed at the outset, opens the door to a parade of types masquerading as people.

They include virulent right-winger Carl (Ben Brannon) and Trina (Heather Corwin), his very pregnant wife. There are gay partners Adam (Christian Malmin) and Tony (Josh T. Ryan), who flirt dangerously with stereotype, and the Gleasons, neighborhood newbies whose eccentricities are the play's most interestingly peculiar elements. Pat (Derek Long) suggests a David Lynch aesthete, Mary Helen (Meeghan Holaway) is a bone-dry sophisticate.

Toss in nubile Justine (Lauren Waisbren), their, um, baby-sitter, and pool cleaner Martin Espinoza (Patrick Gomez), and a mix of xenophobic commentary and sex romp is upon us.

A germ of a biting satirical idea is here. Sadly, the brevity and broadness of the writing hamper its development. What hilarity ensues is due to director Douglas Clayton's hectic pace and the technical proficiency of his antic cast. Still, audiences who prefer their sitcoms onstage rather than on the tube will enjoy themselves.

-- David C. Nichols

"Scaredycats," Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 28. $25. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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