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Redwood Curtain 

By Lanford Wilson

Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

DORSET theatre festival

Dorset, VERMONT

 

The Manchester Journal
Dorset Theatre Festival Presents A Moving “Redwood Curtain”
By David A. Lewis

To Be So Touched and Changed by an Experience in the Theatre is a Gift Beyond Price

MANCHESTER - The Dorset Theatre Festival’s current production of Lanford Wilson’s 1993 play “Redwood Curtain” brings to mind J.M. Barrie’s saying that God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December. Emotional healing from coming to terms with old heartache and loss during America’s war in Vietnam gives “Redwood Curtain” rare poignancy. No wonder producers rushed to adapt the play for a 1995 Hallmark Hall of Fame television production. Nevertheless, Lanford Wilson wrote “Redwood Curtain” with ambitious theatrical imagination far beyond the limits of the small screen. Onstage where Wilson intended it to be, “Redwood Curtain” at DTF genuinely magnifies the playwright’s vision.

The time is a generation after the end of American combat in Vietnam. Driving the plot is an eerily gifted young pianist obsessed with learning the truth about her Vietnamese mother and American serviceman father who gave her up for adoption when American troops left Saigon. She has been using lengthy stays with her wealthy aunt in Northern California to search the redwood forests, home for many a traumatized Vietnam veteran, for the man who might be her natural father, based on the description her adoptive family received long ago. If the man she might find fitting also knows the truth and will tell her, how will she react?

The medium of theatre Lanford Wilson uses in “Redwood Curtain” relies not only on performers, dialogue, and action, but also on the somewhat magical setting in which the characters find themselves: the pre-historic redwood forest of the Pacific Coast. The trunks of several enormous redwoods, surrounded by sun-lit mists dancing on thermal currents, make up most of the awesome set for “Redwood Curtain.” Enhanced by Melissa K. Ring’s stunning lighting and sound work, Wm John Aupperlee’s design achievement (which would have been impossible on the old Playhouse stage) gives the continuous impression of the earth held together by the deeply planted feet of a gathering of giants too tall to see in their entirety, offering silently comforting presence as they serenely contemplate a nearly timeless existence. Dwarfed by such magnificent companions of nature, as Wilson intended, the ordinary size human characters can endure tender feelings, both painful and joyful, that might cause them to flee from another setting.

Director Gregg W. Brevoort has clearly encouraged the actors to build on their respective strengths and therefore excel in meeting the challenges of the playwright’s characters. Gregory Northrop uses stillness, silence, and his character’s few words to maximum effect in the role of an explosives engineer who returned home from Vietnam too psychologically damaged to return among conventional society. Ann Hu is thoroughly convincing as the unsophisticated young Amerasian woman driven to understand where and how she belongs in the world since her birth mother and father let her go. Playing the young woman’s supportive aunt, Paula Mann brings out the character’s appealing, self-deprecating humor as arising naturally from an inner battle between the resigned wisdom of increasing maturity and the tenacious idealism of retreating youth.

The surprising truth that “Redwood Curtain” ultimately reveals makes it an especially moving play that ends the 2001 DTF season on a note of gentle triumph. The production is also final confirmation of the vision of the late Jill Charles, who chose it to end DTF’s first season in the expanded Dorset Playhouse. To be so touched and changed by an experience in the theatre is a gift beyond price to give one’s self and those for whom you care.

Sponsored by Rachel’s Gourmet Foods, “Redwood Curtain” will be presented nightly (except Monday) through Sept. 22 with Wednesday and Saturday matinees. For tickets and further information, call the box office at 802-867-5777.