"This is the way the universe begins ..."
Really, how can one not be intrigued by a play that starts with such a lofty line?
It's the way playwright Craig Wright launches "Pavilion," now on stage at Beowulf Alley Theatre.
And, indeed, the rest of the play intrigues as well in this solid production, directed by Whitney Morton.
The story centers on Peter (Michael "Miko" Gifford) and Kari (Lisa Mae Roether). Once dubbed "the cutest couple" in high school, Peter left Kari stranded when he found she was pregnant. Just left town without a word.
That was two decades earlier, and now they meet again at their 20th high school reunion. Peter is contrite and thinks he lost the best thing he ever had. He wants to turn back the clock with Kari.
Kari, wisely, wants nothing to do with him. She's married, not particularly happily, but not willing to let this cad back in her life.
As they argue, reminisce and seek some sort of reconciliation of her bitterness and his sense of loss, the Narrator (Martie van der Voort) puts things in perspective for us, takes on the roles of Peter and Kari's fellow classmates, and puts a poetic perspective on life.
Wright is a gorgeous writer, if overwrought at times, and the story pumps along nicely.
And the actors owned the material. Roether, looking young and bewildered at one moment, older, wiser and angry the next, embraced a jilted and eloquent woman. Gifford's Peter was wrapped in a sadness brought on by his poor choices and boorish behavior.
It was van der Voort who tackled the most complex and demanding role. While she sometimes struggled with the delineation of her characters - she had to switch personas in seconds, using only her voice and body to clue the audience in that she was someone new - she brought such a warmth and insight to the Narrator that one didn't mind.
Morton gave us a simple, ultimately sweet production. The biggest problem with the play was the ending. As Peter and Kari finally find an even ground and dance in the background, the Narrator crosses back and forth in front of them, becoming a frenzy of characters. It's distracting - the audience wants to bask in the glow of forgiveness emanating from the couple. Instead, we're distracted by the Narrator's upstaging and chatter.
That last scene would have been more effective, perhaps, if the Narrator's lines had been recorded and played, so we can focus on the couple as the words seep in.
Nevertheless, "Pavilion" is a delicious roller coaster ride of emotions, and a strong tale of forgiveness.
• What: Beowulf Alley Theatre's production of "The Pavilion."
• By: Craig Wright.
• Director: Whitney Morton.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 3.
• Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.
• Cost: $20, with discounts available.
• Reservations, information: beowulfalley.org or 622-4460.
• Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, including intermission.