REVIEW: No fault in APT’s reading of ‘Dear Brutus’

Alison Graves, Contributor

A screenshot of the character Lob played by James Ridge from “Dear Brutus”. Screenshot via Alison Graves

“Dear Brutus” by J.M. Barrie (directed by Kelsey Brennan) the second in American Players Theatre 2021 Winter Words series of virtual play readings, is centered around a walk in an enchanted woods on a beautiful night. Even without the stage set, it was easy to imagine a performance of “Dear Brutus” “up the hill” at APT on a starry midsummer night. After experiencing how the actors breathed life into all the characters, I’d love to see them bring this to the stage.

You may be familiar with J.M. Barrie as the author of Peter Pan, or for his lesser-known play, The Admirable Crichton, performed by APT in 2012. Brenda DeVita, the theatre’s artistic director, referred to “Dear Brutus” as “Peter Pan for grown-ups.” Written in 1916 and first performed on the London stage in 1917, the three-act comic-fantasy is named after a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.” That sentiment expresses the play’s premise—that we (dear audience) are responsible for the choices we make.

We are the creators of our own destinies.

The play draws heavily from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, with its Puck-like host and master of ceremonies, Lob, wonderfully performed by Jim Ridge. Viewing the play via Zoom offered an almost-better-than front row seat to appreciate the contorted facial expressions of this bizarre character. At times, Ridge’s voice and wide-eyed distortions reminded me of Smeagol/Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”.

The scene, an English manor house and its garden—turned into a magical woods— is also reminiscent of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It was challenging to keep up with the eight different characters and their stories in “Dear Brutus”, and I found myself having many “Wait…what?” moments, because the characters were transformed in the woods and represented different versions of themselves. In the woods, they experienced what could have been in their lives—different careers, different wives or different families. The play hit home for me as a reminder that even amidst the limitations and challenges presented by the pandemic, we have the power to write our own stories.

What might be lost on Zoom or in a reading by not having scenery or costuming, or even being able to see the actor’s full bodies, was made up for by the richness of the actor’s facial expressions and the power of APT’s great company of actors. While the entire cast was outstanding, Tracy Michelle Arnold as Lady Caroline Laney captivated me with her amusing speech pattern, dropping her “r’s” and pronouncing words like interesting and “intewesting” and married as “mahweed.” Colleen Madden enthralled as Mrs. Dearth. I wish my coworkers in Zoom meetings were as engaging and vividly expressed.

Beyond Shakespeare, not just any playwright could pull all the stories together and make the pieces fit, but Barrie and APT captivates in “Dear Brutus” with charm and humor.

The two remaining performances of APT’s Winter Words series are sold out, but if you can, find a friend or family member in your COVID-pod who has Zoom access and watch Elliot, “A Soldier’s Fugue” by Quiara Alegria Hudes, directed by Melisa Pereyra on March 22 and Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea by Nathan Alan Davis, directed by Ameenah Kaplan, on April 5.