Theater Review: Making magic with a script by J.M. Barrie

04/15/2015 7:00 AM |
Alan Stewart and Rebekah White rehearse a scene from Northeast Stage's production of the J. M. Barrie play 'Dear Brutus.' (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Alan Stewart and Rebekah White rehearse a scene from Northeast Stage’s production of the J. M. Barrie play ‘Dear Brutus.’ (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

J.M.Barrie is best known for creating Neverland and that boy who would never grow up, but he had amassed a full complement of works during his life (including an opera he wrote with Arthur Conan Doyle). “Dear Brutus” offers some of the whimsy and wistfulness of “Peter Pan” and this sweet play is currently being given an engaging presentation by Northeast Stage. 

Eight guests are gathered at the manor of an enigmatic host named Lob during midsummer’s week. Lob, a quirky little man, manipulates his guests into a mysterious Wood that is said to appear on midsummer’s eve each year. What they encounter there could change their lives if they choose to let it. This is a magical play about second chances — would we really change our life if we could?

Before they succumb to the lure of the unknown could-have-beens, we discover a love triangle among the guests. Mr. Purdie is having an affair with fetching young Miss Joanna Trout, who still believes she could be a good friend to Mabel, the cad Purdie’s wife. Mabel catches and confronts them; she is devastated to learn of their betrayal.

The union of Mr. and Mrs. Dearth has grown stale. She regrets not marrying an earlier suitor who would have given her the life she had longed for, and he, now a drunken, blocked painter, regrets never having had children.

Mr. and Mrs. Coade seem to be the only happy couple, and the single Lady Caroline seems to feel she is above everyone else.

When it is revealed that the magical Wood, which has indeed appeared in the garden this night, offers a second chance — a do-over of sorts — for those who enter, Mr. Dearth gleefully and hopefully bounds in without hesitation. He is followed eagerly by Mabel, then the others. Though Mrs. Coade decides to forgo the adventure and calls Mr. Coade to come in to bed, he cannot resist the temptation of a chance to “do” something more with his life.

Jere Jacobs lines out a wickedly merry Lob, the odd host and master puppeteer, and both she and Alan Stewart, as the butler Matey, have impeccable timing, delivery and presence. In the Wood, we see their secret desires made real, and Matey’s scene with Rebekah White, as Lady Caroline, is a favorite. Ms. White creates a remarkable transformation from her old self into her new Wood self.

Deb Rothaug and Jim Pearsall do a lovely job creating the sweet couple, the Coades. Kevin Monsell as the confused cad Mr. Purdie also does a fine job, as does Cate Clifford as the heartbroken Mabel. She conveys her quiet pain with subtle poignancy.

Also finding subtlety in portraying their characters are Dave Markel and Hannah Gray as Mr. and Mrs. Dearth, especially in the touching scene in which they discuss the decline of their marriage.

Grace Johnson brings a high energy and polished believability to her role of Miss Trout, as does Ella Watts as Margaret, the daughter that would have been. Her scene with Dearth as his daughter is heartbreaking. Both of these young actresses have the ability to draw you into their world, making you forget your own.

First-time director Suzette Reiss has worked up a distinctive debut. Her creative use of the space adds to the intimacy of the play itself.

Ultimately, without the words, there is no play, and “Dear Brutus” is thoughtfully and beautifully written. Who among us has never wondered, “What if … ?”

As Mr. Dearth says to his unhappy wife, “Three things they say come not back to men nor women … the spoken word, the past life and the neglected opportunity. Wonder if we should make any more of them, Alice, if they did come back to us.”

In our real lives, we will never know. But go see this magical production and find out how it works out for Barrie’s adventurers.

‘Dear Brutus’
Presented by Northeast Stage at Holy Trinity Church, 768 Main St., Greenport.
Performances continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18, and at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 19.
For tickets, call 477-2972 or go to northeaststage.org.

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