In Dear Brutus, J. M. Barrie takes his not-quite-grown-up characters to another sort of Neverland | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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In Dear Brutus, J. M. Barrie takes his not-quite-grown-up characters to another sort of Neverland

A strong cast makes a stiff story soar.

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About halfway through Eclectic Theatre's two-hour, intermission-free revival of J. M. Barrie's 1917 play, things finally take off. Before that the production just gracelessly galumphs along, flapping its wings madly, hopping and honking, hoping to lift off, but hobbled by bland acting, sluggish, wooden performances, and Barrie's stiff 101-year-old dialogue. The best actors in director Katherine Siegel's ensemble seem merely OK, and the worse like refugees from a bad community theater production.

Then, in one long, delightful, utterly riveting scene of a father spending time with his young daughter (played with remarkable verve by Nathaniel Negron and Jessica Surprenant), it all turns around. The strongest actors in the show soar, the wooden performers seem less so.

Like Barrie's best-known work, Peter Pan, Dear Brutus is also a play about arrested development and a group of people that flees to a kind of Never Never Land to keep from growing up—in this case, three married couples unhappy with their stunted lives who find themselves in a magical forest where they get to live an alternate version of their lives. They grow up anyway . . . kind of.

In the best of these scenes, mentioned above, an alcoholic in a childless, loveless marriage sees what life would be like with a lively, loving little girl. This scene encapsulates all of the themes of the evening—love, loss, the creativity of childhood, the stagnation and desperation of adults—and so energizes the production that this once tiresome play actually ends leaving us wanting more.   v

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