Dorset Theatre Festival Presents A Moving “Redwood Curtain”
By David A. Lewis
Be So Touched and Changed by an Experience in the Theatre is a Gift
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
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.