The Pavilion
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Jon McNally

There are certain situations that we confront in life that are ripe with images that I equate with awake dreams, and going to a 20-year high school reunion is one of them. The past, especially a time when we were in our formative but chaotic teens, is charged with hopes that somehow slip away with time.

In The Pavilion, now playing at Walnut Creekís Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, playwright Craig Wright holds the Pine Grove High School reunion in an old lakeside dance hall known as the pavilion. The building is so worn down that it is to be burned down at midnight to make room for a new building. Thus, the reunionís last dance carries a finality that signifies death or rebirth or both.

Kari and Peter (Deborah Taylor and John Flanagan), the most popular couple in high school, havenít seen each other in 20 years. Peter had gotten Kari pregnant, and at the insistence of his father, deserted Kari without a word. He went on to become a big city psychologist who couldnít cure his own guilt. Kari stayed in that small town working in the bank and entering a loveless marriage to a local golf pro.

Through the intercession of a narrator, Joan Mankin, who also plays all the other characters at the reunion, the audience is taken on a comic whirlwind interspersed by the ascending and descending harp strings of Kari and Peterís ambivalent love. Mankin does a fantastic job keeping the audience grounded in the laughter evoked by the many wild and mundane characters we have all met at high school reunions. Thereís the reunion organizer, her life apparently frozen for all time at the high school level, who has devoted 20 years to planning for this event. Thereís one of Kariís friends who has grown fat and hungrier in the past 20 years and a marijuana-smoking friend of Peterís who still lives in the hallucinatory cloud of smoky escapism. Mankin keeps each character distinct and memorable and each time we laugh at one of them, we get a quick splash of the soap opera life of Kari and Peter. The resultant synergy of comic and tragic results in a stark reality that follows itís own path. No one dies, but no one lives happily ever after either.

When Peter, in a final act of desperation, asks the narrator to help Kari and him, she simply says, ďWhat can I do? Iím just an actor playing an actor playing an actor.Ē

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