Westport Country Playhouse, Westport
In a time when we are beset by dark, threatening news headlines, it is a relief, in fact a necessity, to escape occasionally into Never-Never-Land. Never has escapist summer theater been more needed!
Thus the Westport Country Playhouse does well to serve up a stylish rendering of J. M. Barrie’s 1917 play “Dear Brutus,” transporting us to his make-believe world. To the credit of both Barrie and director Gregory Boyd, “Dear Brutus” is not mere escapism. Barrie has a theme to propound—namely that, given a second chance to correct past choices, one is likely to go the same route all over again—or make worse decisions.
We ourselves make those choices, Barrie says, thus taking the Shakespearean quote for his title: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Though “Dear Brutus” is all about second chances, the playwright develops his theme, not through plodding realism, but through a charming fantasy. The story deals with eight guests attending a Midsummer Night’s Eve gathering at a remote English country estate, owned by a mysterious host named Lob. The common denominator, they learn, is that they all long for “a second chance.” How does this come about? By entering a magical forest abutting the estate, where their lives are turned upside down. We see them first in the drawing room, then in the forest, and ultimately, in the third act, back to the real world, a transition fascinating to watch.
Indeed Barrie is strong on imagination, but short on characterization and dialogue. He tends to ramble on in the play’s first half, which could easily be pared with no loss to plot. But Boyd rises above the play’s flaws, moving it along in lively fashion as he puts his actors through their paces. Despite an uneven cast, several are first-rate, among them Simon Jones and Patrick Horgan. Curzon Dobell is particularly moving as the artist who meets the daughter he never had, and Christopher Evan Welch has a fine flair for comedy as he struggles with two wives. Beth Fowler is likeable as an older woman, but the other women all seem at a loss to define their characters, in no way aided by the playwright—or by the clothes they are obliged to wear. And Noble Shropshire as Lob seems to be miscast, offering nothing of the Puckish quality called for by the text. This Lob is more scary and weird than lovable, as Barrie suggests.
Nevertheless, this production captures the spirit of the play, due foremost to Boyd’s design team. David P. Gordon’s sets are breath-taking, with his elegant drawing room and his spectacular forest lit by splashes of moonlight, courtesy of lighting designer Rui Rita. And John Gromada’s original sound and music completes the mood.
Over all, it is a show which holds one’s attention. And if one can’t escape to exotic foreign ports, “Dear Brutus” at the Playhouse is a happy summertime alternative.
-- Irene Backalenick
July 11, 2005