A new leaf

Dear Brutus

By J.M. Barrie
Directed by Ken Bachtold
Spotlight On Winter Theatre Festival 2002/A Company of Players
Raw Space Theatre L
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

The title comes from Shakespeare: "The fault lies in our selves, dear Brutus, not in our stars...," and summarizes the theme of this play: even given a second chance, people will still make the same mistakes.

Ten characters gather on mid-summer's eve at a country house owned by the eccentric Lob (Tom Johnson), who has an ulterior motive for throwing the lugubrious party. There is an old-wives' tale about a mysterious wood that appears every year at this time; there are nasty rumors about what happens to people who dare go into the wood. Mr. and Mrs. Coade (John Lisanti and Connie Sheppard) have led a life of comfortable uninvolvement with each other or anything else; Jack and Mabel Purdie (Neil Van Kerkhove and Jeanine Bartel) are having difficulties over Jack's philandering with Joanna Trout (Alexandra Cramer); Will and Alice Dearth (Stephen Voutsas and Nikola Smith), have a problem in that Will likes to drink more than a little; there is Lady Caroline Laney (Peggy Queener); and of course, Matey, the butler (Brian Patrick Mooney), whose problem is that he steals things. (The play begins cleverly with the guests blackmailing Matey to tell them what his master is up to, or they'll expose him.)

Naturally, the mysterious wood appears, and everyone goes into it. When we next see them (in Act Two), going into the wood has given them a second chance at their lives, and they don't remember their previous incarnations. Unfortunately, for most, nothing important has changed: the lonely Caroline is now with Maty, who has become a financier in the City -- but is still a crook; Joanna, the new Mrs. Purdy, is now spying on Jack's philanderings with the old Mrs. Purdy; and Mr. Coade is wandering around the forest pretending to be Pan (not as in Peter). Only Will Dearth has turned over a genuinely new leaf, having had a young daughter, Margaret (Christina DeRosier) and being sober to boot.

Where the first act creaked (not helped by less-than-brisk pacing and not-always-energetic performances), the scene with Margaret came alive and truly dramatized the theme of what is otherwise a static, schematic play. Voutsas dropped his drunken shtick and some of his heavy dialect and delivered a touching portrayal of fatherly love, and DeRosier glowed with spontaneity and girlishness (she's actually 27!). When Dearth goes back to the house to get some food for an itinerant beggar (the former Alice Dearth, whom he doesn't recognize), the wood disappears, taking his new daughter with it, and Voutsas's loss was truly touching.

Cremer, as Joanna Trout, and Queener, as Lady Laney, also turned in sparkling performances. Most of the cast suffered from layers of bad English dialect. Sheppard, as Mrs. Coade, though she could have projected more and injected more energy into the role, demonstrated that it would be quite acceptable if all the actors sounded like they stepped out of The Philadelphia Story. Tom Johnson was enigmatic as the enigmatic Lob; he acted the whole third act in his sleep, literally, in a witty supporting turn.

The set was a pleasant assemblage of pre-War-looking set pieces, with a greensward for the forest. Costumes helped differentiate the characters, a boon in an age when audiences rarely see 12 speaking characters on stage. The lighting, hampered by a misthought-out rep. plot, made the forest look like it was underwater.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton