By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Barrie’s brand of whimsy is more brittle than Shakespeare’s, infused with the sarcastic undertow of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, but somehow done less ostentatiously than either of them. It takes the lovers a while to realize that Mrs. Mabel Purdie (Jill Hill) has been watching them through a French window.
MABEL (apologetically): I am so sorry to interrupt you, Jack, but please wait a moment before you kiss her again. Excuse me, Joanna.
[She quietly draws the curtains, thus shutting out the garden and any possible onlooker.] I did not want the others to see you; they might not understand how noble you are, Jack. You can go on now.
A collective amnesia descends upon them in the wood — Barrie’s nod to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Old gent Goade, one of the decorous guests, turns into Pan, rollicking with a crown of vine leaves, playing a flute; philanderer Purdie woos Mabel, who’s now his mistress, while former mistress Joanna, now his wife, watches in agony. All they’ve done is switch places — much like Matey, who, given a second chance, took a clerkship that he refused the first time around, and is now a wealthy financier with a sadistic streak — and still a thief, of course.
In this play’s one scene of uncharacteristic sentimentality, the passionless painter is now a happy artist at his easel, with a child at last — a teenage daughter (Jessica Berman), on the brink of slipping away into adulthood. “Fame is rot,” he declares. “Daughters are everything.” Meanwhile, his wife from the Dark is now impoverished, begging for crumbs, unrecognized and unrecognizing.
Near play’s end, one by one, the guests return to the Dark room — their liberated spirits don’t even recognize the place at first, until familiar furniture and other associations of their “real” lives sink in. There’s a rare and beautiful horror that Hunt captures so subtly in his face, as Matey re-enters the room from the woods, as Barrie’s anesthesia wears off, as financier returns to butler, as his sadism yields back to servitude. Meanwhile, Strang’s forlorn Mrs. Dearth — still begging for food when she first re-enters the room — slowly recognizes the former measure of her wealth, and Barrie’s magic act unveils the brutal capriciousness of life’s turns. Yet all of the character’s essences have remained intact, belligerently so, in poverty and in wealth.
The play’s title is taken from Cassius’ line in Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” Or, to paraphrase Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians: “We are what we are, if you know what I mean.”
DEAR BRUTUS | By J.M. BARRIE | Presented by A NOISE WITHIN, 134 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale | In repertory through December 18 | (818) 240-0901, Ext. 1, or www.anoisewithin.org