The ones with the thin, bright faces

Upstart Crow Theatre Company offers up ‘Peter Pan’ for adults with ‘Dear Brutus’

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Joanne Niederhoff as Joanna Trout, Jeremy Barns as Mr. Purdie and Victoria 'Tory' Green as Mabel Purdie in The Upstart Crow's production of 'Dear Brutus' by J.M. Barrie.
Paul Campbell

Everyone knows of Neverland and Peter Pan, but far fewer people know Scottish playwright James Matthew Barrie’s other magical worlds and characters.

Produced by The Upstart Crow Theatre Company, Dear Brutus is like “Peter Pan for grown-ups” says first-time director Dana Padget. In Barrie’s whimsical 1917 play, the characters travel to “Almostland,” a world where magic comes from second chances instead of fairies and pirates.

Set to play at the Dairy Arts Center May 24-June 3, the lesser-known play boasts a cast of unusual characters, from a philandering philosopher to a thieving butler to a downtrodden musician. Bursting with lighthearted humor on the surface, the core of the play offers an insightful, honest look at human nature.

The first act of three begins in the remote British manor of Lob, an aging Puck of sorts, where eight carefully chosen house guests mill about getting to know one another. Their chatter soon turns to an enchanted forest that crops up outside the manor around Midsummer’s Eve, just before the solstice. As Lob leads his guests on adventures in the magical woods, each gets the chance to see what their lives could have been if they’d made different choices.

A line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the inspiration for the play’s title: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” As the characters return from their adventures in the forest, they revert to their old lives, but not without memory of their experiences in the woods and regret for the road not taken. Padget explains that “the characters find comfort in the realization that they would have turned out the same no matter what, yet it’s also hard for them to take all of the responsibility to make their life exactly what they wanted it to be.”

A painter named Dearth (Alex Markovich) exemplifies the focus on self-revelation and emotional loss in the play.

“His story is the most heartbreaking part of the show,” Padget says. “He is probably the one character who is better off in the woods than he is in real life.” During his proverbial second chance, Dearth forms a deep bond with the daughter he never had, Margaret, (Lauren White) only to later come to the heartbreaking realization that none of it was ever real.

Markovich and White are a touching iteration of the pair, playing deeply on the audience’s knowledge that their relationship is a farce. Recognizable as Christy in The Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge, the previous show produced by the Upstart Crow, Markovich plays the dichotomy of Dearth’s character clearly in his commanding performance, from a shaky, watery-eyed relic of man with his wife, Alice, to a proud and joyous father in the woods.

Other characters fall flat at times, the fast-paced and incredibly witty dialogue sometimes lagging. But Cherrie Ramsdell-Speich as Mrs. Coade (‘Coadey’), Kristy E. Pike as Alice Dearth, Mark Lewis as Lob, and Tom Mann as the thieving butler Matey, keep their scenes fresh and snappy, and the play as a whole is a pleasure to watch.

The cast at the ensemble-focused Upstart Crow is tight-knit; the chemistry between characters feels genuine. The simple set and costumes make room for the power of the performances. Though I was only invited to see the show during a relaxed rehearsal, the result was still a well-intentioned paean to a classic work that captures the majority of the nuances of the plot and characters.

While the show exemplifies the boisterous and playful nature of the cast, its underlying themes of regret, loss and self-revelation remind the audience to be conscious in making decisions. The philandering pseudo-philosopher Mr. Purdie (Jeremy Barns) puts it in classical language: “[The power to shape our lives is] for those who have the grit in them, yes. And they are not the dismal chappies; they are the ones with the thin, bright faces.”

On the Bill: Dear Brutus — presented by The Upstart Crow Theatre Company. Dairy Arts Center, Carson Theatre, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, www.thedairy.org. Tickets are $21 and up, “Name your Price” on select nights, no reserved seating.