Stage Review: The Pavilion – new theatre company opens with a “big bang”

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Don’t let its beautiful simplicity fool you, The Pavilion, on stage at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 23, is definitely a “big bang” and a fine start to a new year of theatre in Vancouver and for Osimous, one of the city’s newest professional theatre companies.

Reunited at their 20th reunion, Peter (Craig Erickson) sets out to seek forgiveness from his high school sweetheart Kari (Dawn Petten) after abruptly leaving her in small-town Minnesota.  But more than just forgiveness, Peter looks to turn back the clock or “restart the universe”, to undo his decision to abandon Kari under circumstances that we are soon to realize are far greater than simple young love.

While both Erickson and Petten give solid performances, for me it was Petten that provided a wonderful subtly in her character as she moved easily through the spectrum of her character’s emotions.  Sure she made us work for it at times, and her act two is strongest, but it was oh so worth it.

Along with the two leads, the play also includes the Narrator (Parnelli Parnes) who works overtime not only the narrator but also as a multitude of other reunion guests and even the god-like figure who has created the universe we are visiting.  Parnes is mostly successful in what at times is a rapid succession of characters he portrays at the reunion, both male and female.  He is just the right-amount-of-angry as Carla whose mantra is “never forgive” and as Kent, the police chief who gets high with, instead of killing, the man sleeping with his wife.  At times there was a blurring as to which character Parnes was portraying and as the god-like figure he is weighted down by Wright’s words but he attacks both (or should that be multiple) roles in that beautifully simple tone that permeates the entire piece.

Dawn Petten and Carig Erickson in the Osimous Theatre production of The Pavilion
Dawn Petten and Craig Erickson in the Osimous Theatre production of The Pavilion.

Playwright Craig Wright flirts with clichés at times but is ultimately saved by a believable ending and from the deft handling of the material from both the actors and Director Bob Frazer.  The central idea that our attempts to undo past mistakes are futile and that we must live in the moment doesn’t break any new ground here, but is it such a bad thing to be reminded we can all learn from our past?

With a nearly bare stage, Director Frazer relies heavily on not only on his actors but also on lighting designer Shaun August.  August does a good job creating both the real world that Peter and Kari inhabit as well as the more metaphysical world of the Narrator.

If ever there was an argument to re-think high school reunions, The Pavilion just might be the catalyst for that discussion.  Until that idea catches on though, perhaps we can use it as a cautionary tale that indeed living in the moment might just be what the universe wants of us.  No, demands.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Pavilion

By Craig Wright.  Directed by Bob Frazer.  An Osimous Theatre production.  On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre through January 23, 2011.

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