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Manchester Newspapers, Inc.
Redwood Curtain 

By Lanford Wilson

Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

DORSET theatre festival

Dorset, VERMONT

 

Manchester Newspapers, inc.
(Syndicated throughout the Southern Vermont & Albany Regions including the Northshire Free Press, The Granville Sentinel, Lake Region Free Press, etc.)

Dorset Theatre Festival Triumphs With “Redwood Curtain”
By Darrell R. Beebe

This was a treat of a play, dramatic but funny, entertaining but intelligent, and at the end, very satisfying

DORSET - A difficult aspect of reviewing an institution like the Dorset Theatre Festival is to give the performances their due credit without it sounding pandering, or paragraphs full of empty praise. The truth in my eyes, however, is that Dorset Theatre has had an incredible season this year. The cards were stacked against them: the chaos of a million-dollar addition that was not quite finished in time for the opening of the 2001 season, as well as the lamentable death of brilliant artistic director Jill Charles. Despite these staggering obstacles, some of the best plays ever written and some of the finest actors in the business today have left a season one should not forget.

The last play of the 2001 season was a terrific character study, and shame to those who missed it. "Redwood Curtain," by Lanford Wilson was a fascinating story partially about those oft forgotten victims of the Vietnam War, the children of soldiers who bedded Vietnamese women. Though it was in the lineup slot that I like to call, albeit erroneously, "the heavy-handed drama slot", this semi-comical play follows the teenaged Geri on a search for her father, a Vietnamese vet who may or may not be living in California's redwood forest, where thousands of Vietnamese veterans escaped to following the war and America's betrayal of them. Geri, a piano prodigy, is obsessed with finding her real father so that she can follow in his footsteps as her birth culture dictates. She becomes convinced that Lyman Fellars, a big, brooding refugee from society, is the one. The clues, including two eyes that don't match and an eagle tattoo, certainly suggest that he may indeed be the one, but the answers are not so easy to uncover as she hopes. The play also focuses on Geri's aunt, who is fighting her own battle to keep her lumber company and the redwood forest it owns.

The story delves into the characters' stories with gusto, and we're presented with a tableau that is as thought provoking and fascinating as it is entertaining. Geri annually pushes aside her wealthy adopted parents so she can visit her aunt so she can in turn scour the woods for her real father. Along the way she makes up stories, any story, to get close enough to these men so she might learn their secrets. Lying becomes as second nature to her as the magic she claims she has at her disposal. She is an amusing character, and is like liquid when confronted or caught by her own lies, easily shifting into the shape of a new story until we, too, are wondering what is real and what isn't. Actress Ann Hu obviously had a good time playing her, and handled the character's intricacies well. While Wilson's dialogue sometimes made Geri seem older than her years, that, too, is kind of the point. Geri is connected by her Vietnamese heritage to something far older than anything in America can compare, except, perhaps, to the giant redwood trees that were seemingly old before the dawn of mankind.

Gregory Northrop, quite dashing and heroic in "Ten Little Indians," showed drastic departure from his earlier role of the season as Lyman Fellars. Full of an unexpressed anger and resentment toward fates who made him fight for his country but then had that country turn his back on him, Fellars retreated not just into the redwood forest, but into himself, as well. He is unable to connect to people outside of himself, and is unprepared for Geri's intrusion on his ghost-like life. Hostile and uncommunicative, Geri manages to touch something inside him, which leads to his eventual resurrection.

(Northrup gets a special thumbs up for keeping his cool on opening night, when a wallet he was supposed to rifle through instead took a wrong detour into the audience, much to the audience's amusement. Still in character, Northrup simply thrust out his hand with a luck that said "give it to me now", which the audience member brave enough to pick it up willingly did, and saved an otherwise awkward moment.)

One of the highlights of the play was Paula Mann's performance as Geri's aunt. The role of the slightly eccentric but compassionate woman suits Mann, and her gifts of comic timing, which have been woefully underplayed in her past DTF performances, shines here. She had such wonderful delivery that not a single joke was missed in her capable hands. Mann may want to consider more comedy in the future.

A sympathetic ear to Geri's plight, the woman at the same time had her own demons to battle, most notably the loss of her company to a hostile takeover. Even so, the character demonstrated a strength to carry on with dignity that proved an inspiration to her niece.

Director Gregg W. Brevoort surely had his hands full bringing together the disparate factions of this worthwhile play, but he did so with seeming ease. He should be commended for provoking a fine performance out of all three actors, and urging the drama on at a crisp pace that made at least this audience member forget there was no intermission.

Naturally, I won't spoil the ending, but will note that everything comes together in the end in a way that is remarkably plausible and touching, even with the traces of magical realism. This was a treat of a play, dramatic but funny, entertaining but intelligent, and at the end, very satisfying.

Helping the play to achieve that level of satisfaction was the set, designed by William John Aupperlee and decorated with props by P.J. Tumielewicz. The suggestion of redwood trees by these enormous pillars was effective in and of itself, and when used in connection with the set piece to suggest the aunt's home, worked beautifully as well. The lighting effects were also well done, and helped capture the right moods at the right moments, especially during Geri's "calling" scene in the forest.

My congratulations and thanks both to cast and crew alike for a great performance of "Redwood Curtain," one that served as a terrific close to a terrific season.