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A CurtainUp Review
This Side of Neverland
The Pearl Theatre Company has plucked two plums from Barrie’s oeuvre, Rosalind and The Twelve Pound Look, and is featuring them in a double-bill program entitled This Side of Neverland. Helmed by the Pearl’s artistic director J. R. Sullivan, this duo of one-act plays serves as the theatrical coda for the company’s first season in its new digs on 42nd Street. And, as it turns out, this modest production outdoes their more epic Henry IV: Part One, mounted earlier this season.
Sullivan direction is at its most fluid here. Sean McNall urbanely steps in as J. M. Barrie to set the tone and to segue into the first play. He briefly inhabits Barrie, once again, to introduce the second [;au. It is a warm-hearted and inventive touch to the program, and brings the author Barrie into the present tense before he disappears into his characters again.
Rosalind, which is up first, is part homage to Shakespeare’s heroine, part crie de couer of middle-aged women, and part romantic adventure. As the lights go up, you see two middle-aged women, Mrs. Page (Rachel Botchan) and her landlady Dame Quickly (Carol Schultz), sipping tea and gossiping in the parlour of a sea-side cottage far from London when their eyes slowly turn to a photograph on the mantelpiece. It depicts Mrs. Page’s daughter playing Rosalind. Dame Quickly immediately prods Mrs. Page for her daughter’s age and upon learning that she is “23” presses the other woman for her own age. Ever the coquette, Mrs. Page coyly responds: “I am forty and a bittock, as the Scotch say. That means forty, and a good wee bit more.” There will be more confessions, for Mrs. Page to confess.
Naturally, things get more complicated in this cozy world when a well-mannered young man named Charles (McNall) materializes at the door dressed in knickerbockers and a Norfolk jacket. He tells Dame Quickly that he has been on a walking tour but “got caught in a shower” and hopes to catch a train. Invited by Dame Quickly to bide his time in the cottage, Charles reaches for a book on the mantelpiece and is startled to see the picture of Mrs. Page’s “play-actress” daughter Miss Beatrice Page. He immediately reveals his devotion to her and marvels at this happy accident. Not to be a spoiler, that’s all I’ll say here! But what happens in the following scenes is a very clever doubling of our heroine’s identity, a surreal solution to middle-age, and a reinvention of the Forest of Arden in the 19th century. Ultimately, this play begs the question: What is authentic?
The second offering, The Twelve Pound Look, is tinged with much irony and wit. It anticipates women’s liberation before the term was coined.
Set in Kensington, the scenario revolves around Kate (Rachel Botchan), a high-spirited secretary who encounters her ex-husband Sir Harry (Bradford Cover) just days before he is making knighthood.
In a twist of fate, Kate has been sent by her employers to the Sims’ home to help him “answer the messages of congratulations” on his knighthood. Instead of celebrating his achievement, however, she becomes the proverbial kill-joy and the only “old friend” who does not think him a success. Does she regret that she tossed away the chance to be Lady Sims? Is she envious of his trophy wife (Vaishnavi Sharma)? Not a chance. This little gem shows a woman to be more than a man’s help-mate, and cautions men to be on the look-out for their spouses to get the itch for more self-expression and freedom.
Gary Levinson’s set design in Rosalind is a blending of rusticism and quaintness. You can almost taste the English tea here, feel the plush cushions on the chairs and couches, and smell the blazing hearth. The set for The Twelve Pound Look is more aristocratic. Its handsome furniture in a pleasing arrangement and a decor suggests deep-rooted English traditions.
When it comes to costumes, Elise M. Vanderkley is a real wizard. Mrs. Page lightning-quick change from dowdy to a glamorous outfit was an amazing eye-opener and transformed the plain-looking protagonist into eye-candy. Vanderkley’s creamy “presentation gown” for Sharma’s Lady Sims could have been plucked from the racks of Chanel.
While singling out any one actor seems quite unfair, if pressed, I would give the honors to Sean McNall, doing double-duty as J. M. Barrie and Charles in Rosalind. Rachel Botchan performs equally well as Mrs. Page in Rosalind and as the determined Kate in The Twelve Pound Look
. T While neither of these plays outdoes Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan, you go away from this evening with a deeper understanding of Barrie’s dreamy vision and his sharp social consciousness.