Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas

A wonderful production of a brilliant, but often overlooked, gem

By: Mar. 21, 2024
Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
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Sometimes success can create problems (I’m obviously not speaking from personal experience), as your later work, held to an objective standard would be hailed as a resounding success if produced by someone else, but is instead compared to your well-loved “masterpiece,” and as such, is discounted.  This, I believe, was the fate of Dear Brutus, a wonderful play written by J. M. Barrie, but completely overshadowed by (if not outrightly ignored because of) the massive success of his stories about that boy who didn’t want to grow up. 

Thank goodness MainStage Irving-Los Colinas decided to include it in this year’s season, as I think many people besides myself would otherwise never have experienced its magic.  And it is magical, both in its setting and in this performance.

Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
Lynn and Garner (front) with Alguire, Soder,
Matthews, and Hoffman (behind)

It’s sometime in the early nineteen hundreds, and a group of people, mostly couples, have been gathered together on a splendid estate for the week leading up to Midsummer Night, by a short, mysterious, and you might even say, puckish, host, who goes by the name Lob (Dio Garner).  Although they’re all getting along fairly well, they don’t know why or for what purpose they’ve been assembled, nor can they figure out what – if anything – they have in common.  But the ladies, having determined that the butler, Matey (Bill Lewis), has been pilfering, agree to overlook his thieving if he’ll provide them with information. 

What he reveals – mostly village gossip and Lob’s strange mumblings that he’s overheard – is both nonsensical and frightening: the timing of the gathering was intentional, there is something that they share in common, and whatever they do, they mustn’t go into the woods that evening.  What woods, they ask – there’s nary a tree for miles.  But that’s just it, on Midsummer Night, the villagers say, the woods will appear.  And some who went in never returned.

Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
               Dio Garner and Kristin Sutton Ford

Most of the group is dissatisfied with their lives and the choices they’ve made (some of them are outright miserable).  Mr. Dearth (Travis Cook), once a painter, became a full-time drunk when he realized that his wife (Staci Cook) hated him.  Soon he agreed with her.  Mr. Purdie (Brian Hoffman) wishes he had met Ms. Joanna (Bethany Soder) before he had married his wife (Hanna Destiny Lynn).  Mr. and Mrs. Coade (Allen Matthews and Barrie Alguire), an older couple, are happy together, but he feels like he’s wasted his life, that he could have accomplished something meaningful.  Finally, Lady Caroline (Kristin Sutton Ford), who has chosen to live alone, doesn’t actually say that was a mistake, but it’s kind of implied.

Following some rather unpleasant confrontations, including a wonderfully delivered putdown by Lynn’s Mrs. Purdie directed at Soder’s Joanna (after the former entered the room at an inopportune time), and a no-holds barred exchange between the Dearths, in which Mrs. Dearth expressed her wish that she had married a particular rival suiter, everyone, except Mrs. Coade, is easily persuaded by Lob to head into the recently exnihilated forest, once he explains that it offers what they most dearly desire: a second chance.

Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
            Travis Cook and Carol Diaz-Arrastia

The magical forest, it turns out, is, in effect, a multiverse, although that word isn’t used.  It’s a place for wishes and might-have-beens, a term mentioned by a new character, Margaret (Carol Diaz-Arrastia), who factors prominently in the woods.  The final act consists of the return to reality and the consequences of what was learned (including a Field of Dreams moment that absolutely gutted me).  If it is, indeed, true that there is nothing new under the sun, one might wonder if this play is more well-known (or at least influential) than I had thought. 

I don’t want to give away the revelation, but it really is the point of the play, as alluded to by the title (just one of several Shakespeare references throughout the work), and needs to be mentioned because it so relevant to our time and society.  While I’ve always seen Cassius as the villain (along with the title character, but that’s for another time) of Julius Caesar, he, like Edmund in Lear (and on the same theme), offers some of the wisest words in that play: “Men at some time are masters of their fates; The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  Is it chance, destiny, fate, the system, bad luck that causes some of us to fail or is it the poor choices we make?  Is it our character or the situations in which we find ourselves that shape our decisions?  Does a person cheat and steal, for example, because of his financial situation or would he do the same thing even if he were a leading banker, just in different ways?  Is infidelity caused by whom we’re with or by our own passions?  These are the questions Barrie is looking to examine with this play, and while many might not like the answer, Barrie is quite certain where the fault lies.  Some used to go so far as to say that character is destiny.

Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
             Bill Lewis and Kristin Sutton Ford

Rose Anne Holman has directed a wonderful production that is fun, moving, and morally clarifying, for which she should be congratulated.  TJ Firneo’s set (particularly in the first and final act) is rather impressive, and meshes well with Nikki DeShea’s lighting, Kristen Burgess’s props, and Rich Frolich’s sound, but all is overshadowed by the outstanding costuming from Michael A. Robinson (and his Dallas Costume Shoppe).  The intricate Edwardian outfits were jaw-droppingly good, and added a great deal to the performance.

Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
               Travis Cook and Staci Cook

Speaking of which, while the entire ensemble was excellent, the Cooks (a real-life married couple) were outstanding as the Dearths, and not just because they were saying things no spouses should say to each other.  That said, it was Diaz-Arrastia’s Margaret that stole the show.  Over the last few years, we’ve been graced with a number of adult performers who have done an excellent job portraying children (Dakota Ratliff and Kristin Lazarchick both immediately jump to mind), and Diaz-Arrastia amazing performance as this precocious and adorable adolescent must be added to that list. 

Review: DEAR BRUTUS at MainStage Irving-Los Colinas
Brian Hoffman and Bethany Soder

I wish I had been able to see this show during its opening weekend, and more, I wish I were available to see it again this weekend.  And once again I’m reminded that the value of season tickets is much more than a discounted price for each show.  Knowing nothing about the play, except that it was written by the Peter Pan guy, there’s a very good chance I would have skipped it, which would have been a big mistake.  There’s nothing worse than a might-have-been that deserved to be.

Dear Brutus plays this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening in the Dupree Theater at the Irving Arts Center in Irving. 

Photos by Kris Ikejiri (except title photo by Mike Morgan Photography)


 


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