There is nothing in my training that qualifies me to be a theatre reviewer. My first two degrees are in Sociology and I almost have a PhD in History, which is similar to almost being pregnant or almost winning the lottery. But when our reviewer bailed on us at the last minute Tuesday night and it was too late to turn in tickets to see Full Circle’s production of The Pavilion at USC’s Lab theatre, I decided to take their seats and accept the challenge of giving one person’s feedback on their experience as an audience member at a play. As a frequent theatre-goer to stages in New York and London and a rabid theatre-goer to stages local, the reality is that I’m probably no more or less qualified than most of you reading this piece. And it can be argued that a review is just one person’s opinion, at worst or at best.
I went into the performance full of support for the newly organized Full Circle Productions, and left feeling the same way. Full Circle Productions is a small theatre troupe made up of many highly respected theatre professionals who are committed to providing exceptional theatre that challenges audiences with both the content and the execution of the art form. Issues of social justice are high on their list of priorities. Full Circle Productions also offers the kind of art experience that many of us thrive on – boutique, intimate, ephemeral. The kind of event that sometimes gives you chills because you know neither you nor anyone else in the room with you will ever experience the specific exchange of energy you are all experiencing at that moment in time. We don’t need fancy props or costumes or dozens of people on the stage for this; all we need is talent, sincerity, openness, and a moment in time. Kudos and thank you to Full Circle Productions for adding another opportunity for these experiences to Columbia’s theatre repertoire.
The Pavilion, written by Craig Wright, was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2005, but it didn’t win despite the very real chops Wright brings to his endeavor having written, in addition to several other plays, a number of award-winning episodes of Lost and Six Feet Under for television. Wright is a seminary graduate and his writing reveals a fascination with the kind of cosmic questions about the meaning and purpose of life and the existence of the universe that can leave one anything from amused to maddened.
The three characters in The Pavilion are charged with conveying to the audience that the pavilion in which they exist for this short night that is their 20th high school reunion is symbolic of time. The pavilion is scheduled to be demolished immediately after their reunion, leading us to understand that time is fleeting. A mistake was made 20 years earlier and the main duo of characters played by Lindsay Rae Taylor and Andrew Schwartz as Kari and Peter respectively, (Jennifer Moody Sanchez plays the narrator), ultimately debate whether we can reverse time with our actions and apologies and better plans. It is a contemplative play with difficult questions and while it does belabor the one point of their contention, it’s not difficult to translate that situation to any number of additional life quandaries.
Schwartz and Taylor provide really lovely performances. Schwartz is believably earnest in his desire and appears to be at peace with his mistakes and where life has taken him, recognizing the value of asking for a second chance but willing to take no for an answer. Taylor is genuinely miserable throughout the first act and when, in the second act, we think she may see a way out of her misery, the habits of twenty years make their ties known. But, yes, Taylor allows us to see the young woman full of hope and dreams that Kari once was.
Sanchez was saddled with an incredibly difficult part, or parts, to play, risking the chance of becoming annoying as she played the parts as they were written. Her character required the kind of virtuosic performance that I can see very few people being able to pull off without flaw. Someone like Mark Rylance comes to mind and, even still, the part just seems treacherous in that the character repeatedly interrupts the action of the others by pretending to blow some kind of cosmic dust on the action in a god-like fashion. Added to that, Sanchez plays a number of other parts for seconds here and there without benefit of a true costume change due to the timing of the script and the only way for her to make the audience discern the difference between Pudge and Denise and Angie and Carla and Kent and more is through somewhat exaggerated character traits and a variety of accents we are surprised to find in the small town of Pine City, Minnesota. Kudos to Sanchez for taking on such a tough challenge.
Production designer Nate Terracio gives us exactly what we need to know we are at a special event, but no more, which is a testament to the beauty of simplicity in design and, especially in South Carolina where, due to the lack of structural support for the arts, doing more with less is always to be applauded. And Robert Richmond, director of The Pavilion as well as director of USC’s department of theatre and dance and director of Theatre South Carolina, is the seed of this and many important pieces of theatrical art in Columbia and should be applauded, too, for his contributions to our theatre culture as well as for having faith in us as an audience to grow and appreciate new ways of seeing old stories and an earnest desire for the new.
The Pavilion runs at the Lab Theatre on Wheat Street through November 2nd and tickets are only $10 at the door.
- Cindi Boiter is the editor of Jasper Magazine and executive director of The Jasper Project.