When most people hear J.M. Barrie, they think Peter Pan: flying children, one-handed pirates, and ticking crocodiles. I should know, I’ve performed in a retelling of Peter Pan. Well, Peter has had his time in the spotlight, and it’s time for Mr. Lob to take center-stage (quite literally) in Eclectic Full Contact Theatre’s rendition of Dear Brutus, directed by Katherine Siegel. This is Barrie’s less known, more adult-oriented tale (although the original Peter Pan is pretty dark if you think about it), which tells the story of nine people who get an opportunity many would kill for: a second chance at life. This is a tale that will bring up things that many people can relate to: regret, wishing you had made a decision differently, and why sometimes, it’s not a second chance that you need, but to learn from what you’ve done, and live the rest of your life based on what you’ve learned from those decisions. I love fantasy with dark undertones, and the second I saw this play was scheduled, I knew I wanted to review it, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Dear Brutus throws you right into the mix from the start, and begins with the main characters voicing their confusion over why they were invited to the house of the mysterious Mr. Lob. I will admit that the beginning of the production is a bit confusing, as characters aren’t immediately calling each other by their given name, but after thinking this over for a bit, I think this was probably for the best, as it lets you learn about the characters organically, instead of them all stiffly announcing their names at the beginning. You gradually start to learn about some of the characters from their interactions with the other characters, like Mr. Purdie’s obsession with women, like Joanna, played by Jessica Lauren Fisher, other than his wife, how uppity Lady Caroline is, and Mr. Coade’s devotion to his wife. You, along with the characters, slowly begin to realize that there is one thing all of these characters have in common: they all wish they had done things differently in life. All of the actors portray these emotions incredibly well, with my favorite interactions being between Alice Dearth (Noelle Klyce) and Mr. Dearth (Nathaniel Negron), and their slowly decaying marriage. Even so, every character has a great arc, even those that seem to be pretty one-dimensional, like Mr. Coade (Randolph Johnson), who seems like he’s pretty happy at the beginning of the play, but by the end has undergone significant growth and has one of, if not the, best single lines of dialogue in the entire production.
Probably my favorite part of the production was how close the actors are to the audience, and how close the overall stage is to the seats. I was seated in the first row, and whenever a character came to the front I would instinctually move my legs closer because I thought I’d hit one of them. This added some real intimacy to the whole experience, and made the physicality of Frank Gasparro’s performance as Mr. Lob all the better. When you’re at most 15 feet away from the stage and he does a perfect spinning belly flop onto a couch into a perfect hands-on-chin position, it’s made even better when you can hear the springs in the couch squeak when he lands.
All of the actors put on phenomenal performances, with perhaps my favorite overall performance being from Nathaniel Negron as Mr. Dearth, and how he goes from slobberingly drunk to an amazing father, the reason for which I won’t say since it’s a pretty big plot point, and definitely a spoiler. This applies to all the characters, who undergo incredible transformations, to the point where I thought they were playing different characters entirely. I think this is most apparent with Lady Caroline (Sophie Vitello), who at the beginning is a snob who pronounces R’s as W’s (I later found out this is something wealthy and high class English people do) and ends up married to Matey, who is now an investment banker. It’s really interesting seeing how these people change (for better or worse) when given “a second chance” and when they revert to their original selves and realize how things would have gone if they’d made different decisions.
Eclectic Full Contact Theatre’s rendition of Dear Brutus is a solid return for a lesser-known J.M. Barrie story that, until recently, had not been performed on stage in almost 20 years. I love seeing an author’s less well-known creations given the spotlight, and it’s even better when it’s given as much attention as was given to this production of Dear Brutus. If you’re interested in stories with hints of fantasy that deal with concepts that you can relate to, and that make you think about said concepts in a different way, then I’d highly recommend Dear Brutus.
Dear Brutus by Eclectic Full Contact Theatre continues through October 18 at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. The play runs an hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $25-$30.
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