Into the woods

Dear Brutus

Rated 4.0 Peter Pan playwright J.M. Barrie is currently front stage center. The recent movie Finding Neverland has Johnny Depp portraying the playwright and chronicles the creative process Barrie used in imagining a boy who never grows up. The musical version of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby, flew through Sacramento a few weeks ago. And now the Actor’s Theatre is producing one of Barrie’s less-known plays, Dear Brutus.

Barrie began as a novelist but soon found himself writing plays. Dear Brutus, one of Barrie’s later plays, has fantasy aspects like Peter Pan does, though it deals with adult protagonists and subject matters. It’s an odd play, but it’s no odder than Peter Pan (which is rather bizarre if you stop and examine it).

The Actor’s Theatre has produced a well-acted, thoughtful and funny production of this strange and wishful fantasy/comedy/drama. Dear Brutus starts out as a parlor mystery. A group of strangers is invited to an isolated English countryside manor for Midsummer Night. While gathering in the small parlor, members of the group—some are couples, and others are single—try to figure out what they have in common, who their host is and why he invited them for the weekend. The mystery is expanded further when we meet the elfish and elusive host, Lob. He’s a master gardener with childlike responses to inquiries.

At the end of the first act, we find out that all the guests are people who feel they made wrong choices in life or missed opportunities along the way. The members of this midlife-crisis crowd discover that if they wander into the strange, mysterious woods, they might get to make other choices or go down unexplored paths.

So, in this wood of second chances, the philanderer husband and the faithful wife reverse roles. The gold-digging snob finds love with the butler turned millionaire, and the childless drunk finds an adoring child who worships her successful father.

Ed Claudio, the artistic director, does an admirable job of keeping the flow going, though the play’s focal points are uneven at times. The most haunting scene is captured by two very talented cast members: Mark Heckman as the childless failure and Rebecca Clouse as his fantasy daughter. Ultimately, the whole cast works well in this quirky fantasy with subtle Peter Pan qualities.