‘Pavilion’ plumbs depths of regret

Jeremiah Wiggins and Sarah Kate Jackson as high school sweethearts whose romance ended badly, in the Dorset Theatre Festival’s production of “The Pavilion.’’ Jeremiah Wiggins and Sarah Kate Jackson as high school sweethearts whose romance ended badly, in the Dorset Theatre Festival’s production of “The Pavilion.’’ (Nicole Yvette Hughes)
By Sandy MacDonald
Globe Correspondent / July 6, 2010

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DORSET, Vt. — Dina Janis, the new artistic director of the Dorset Theatre Festival (a 35-year-old professional program ensconced in a 1929 barn theater), is connected. In the past decade, while hosting several summer play-development intensives for New York’s prestigious Labyrinth Theatre Company at Bennington College, where she teaches, she helped to nurture scores of the most promising voices in contemporary theater.

As a result, DTF’s first season under her aegis will culminate in August with an A-list cast presenting the world premiere of “The Novelist’’ by Theresa Rebeck, whose career took off with “Bad Dates’’ and whose new plays tend to rocket to Broadway.

But that’s off in the future. Right now, DTF is kicking off all traces of straw hat torpor with a thrilling production of Craig Wright’s “The Pavilion,’’ an ambitious chamber work that debuted off-Broadway to considerable acclaim in 2005. As effective as that production was, director Giovanna Sardelli finds new depth — and readier humor — in this quirky study of time and regret, and the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the two.

The scene — Debra Booth’s graceful yet grand set evokes it perfectly — is a century-old lakeside dance hall in Pine City, Minn., where the high school class of ’79 has gathered to celebrate its 20th reunion. A victim of civic ambition, the pavilion is due to be burned down at the close of the festivities to make way for a concrete rock-concert venue.

Peter, an alum who made good (he’s a psychologist in the big city now, though his crowning achievement amid this crowd may be merely the fact that he managed to get out of town), is appalled at his peers’ patent disregard for the past. In fact, Peter (played with palpable sincerity and superb timing by Jeremiah Wiggins) is actually on a mission to resurrect the past — in general, and his own personal past in particular. As gradually becomes clear, he never got over the first love of his life, former classmate Kari (Sarah Kate Jackson), whom he abandoned way back then in a family way.

Who among us has not wondered about the road — or potential spouse — not taken? Wright wraps this fairly run-of-the-mill situation in clouds of cosmic musing, delivered by a godlike yet impish omniscient narrator, who pops in repeatedly to play former classmates meddling in Peter and Kari’s situations and/or undergoing their own romantic crises. In this hugely demanding role, Antoinette LaVecchia is a powerhouse, pumping plenty of excitement into Wright’s somewhat windy take on the miraculous circumstances that conspire to bring two lovers together (the text is off to a leisurely start with the observation: “This is the way the universe begins . . .’’), while rendering the hijinks with relish. Particularly juicy is LaVecchia’s incarnation of a venomous wronged wife, whose advice to Kari is, “Never forgive!’’

Jackson plays Kari with the high-strung edginess of an adolescent (hands flapping with angst) crossed with an adult’s considered resignation: She married the local golf pro, who “rescued’’ her from small-town opprobrium only to bore her into a kind of living death. Kari is well aware of the metaphorical import of her own job, standing guard over the safety-deposit boxes in the basement of the local bank. And yet, in Jackson’s sensitive portrayal, glimpses of the love-transported young girl manage to shine through.

In Kari’s face, Peter reminisces, he once saw “the beauty of everything . . . the whole universe.’’ Indeed, he sees it there still. The new team at the Dorset Theatre Festival gleans fresh insight from Wright’s challenging yet ultimately brilliant script.

Sandy MacDonald can be reached at

THE PAVILION Play by Craig Wright

Directed by: Giovanna Sardelli. Set, Debra Booth. Lights, Michael Giannitti. Costumes, Barbara A. Bell.

At the Dorset Theatre Festival, through July 11. Tickets: $37-42. 802-867-5777,