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Photograph by Holly Cornelison

Reunion Movement: Christian Thomas (left), Allison Asher (center) and Rachel M. Johnson tackle some thorny problems about time in 'The Pavilion.'

Time Bandits

City Lights explores the tricks of time in Craig Wright's 'The Pavilion'

By Marianne Messina

'THIS IS a play about time," says the roving Narrator (Allison Asher), glancing at her pocket watch, and even when the watch is tucked away in Asher's loose-hanging men's black suit (costumer Gloria Grandy), its imposing biker-chain presence echoes the idea that The Pavilion, City Lights' current production, is wrestling with the idea of time—time lost, time passing, making the most of time.

The literal pavilion is one of those structures that houses such one-time events as a class reunion. Kari and Peter (Rachel M. Johnson and Christian Thomas), "the cutest couple" from the class of 1985, meet at their 20-year high school reunion, for the first time since she got pregnant and he bailed. Judging by the Don Henley tune ("Heart of the Matter") that comes up at the end of the play on the soundtrack compiled by Kit Wilder and director Amy Himes, The Pavilion is not just a play about time but about forgiveness.

For the title and all of playwright Craig Wright's impressionistic, if questionable, poetry by the Narrator about pavilions being watery drops of possibility akin to the beginning of the universe (go figure), the physical pavilion is not depicted at all in Paul Vallerga's scenic design. Instead we get a table with floral centerpiece.

All too often, such sparse scenic input only signals creative or financial poverty posing as artistic license. But in this City Lights production, where the members of the graduate class stand in a nonexistent pavilion, pass nonexistent napkins and smoke nonexistent cigarettes, everything is exactly as it should be. The setting suits the bustling party of characters—a laconic, hulking townie, a bitter, chain-smoking divorcee, a chattery social planner—all played amusingly by one person (Asher).

With only three actors and a table at the physical core of this lavish, populous, emotionally entangled event, Himes, Wright and Vallerga have managed to render, in clear relief, the palpable sense that much of the human universe is merely a product of imagination. This approach provides Wright's existential questions the space they need to percolate.

Musings about how universes, personal and physical, begin and whether time flows in only one direction are folded neatly into the love story of Peter and Kari. Peter thinks that willing so can turn back the clock, and he wants to try with Kari. But Kari wants to play forward. Through most of this, Thomas' Peter, with help from Wright's pining dialogue, comes off as needy and less than romantic.

But Johnson is incredibly grounded as Kari, who carries both their scenes and their relationship. She holds the central realism down while Asher morphs into ubiquitous characters that bombard us like dream sequences—especially in the final scene, at midnight. The paradox of midnight (a point suggesting that the difference between today and tomorrow is zero) creates the perfect place/time to hold the play's culminating dance.

More than anything, Wright's concept of the pavilion is this scene, just the way City Lights brings it off. As the inspiring, seminal moment, it scintillates with the chatter of possibility (mirror ball and Asher's multifarious morphings), and then dissolves into outcomes that domino forward in several directions.

The Pavilion, a City Lights Theater Company of San Jose production, runs Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm through Aug. 20 at City Lights, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$28. (408.295.4200)

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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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