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Theater review: ‘Barrie: Back to Back’ at Pacific Resident Theatre

June 30, 2011 |  2:00 pm

Ladyshowshermedals Growing up—or not—and the power of imagination to transcend life’s hardships were the touchstone themes of playwright J.M. Barrie. Though chiefly remembered as the author of “Peter Pan,” his plays often spoke to more sophisticated adult sensibilities with flights of whimsy grounded in sober realism. The soulful empathy and compassion of Barrie the man were recently portrayed in the film “Finding Neverland,” and Pacific Resident Theatre beautifully evokes those qualities in a pair of one-acts billed as “Barrie: Back to Back.” 

Finding the timeless appeal in neglected works from classic literature is this company's forte. These playlets from the early 1900s are essentially two-handers (albeit with a fine cast of incidental characters) about hidden identities and unexpected human connectedness.

The opener, titled “Rosalind” in a sly nod to Shakespeare’s heroine, is set in a seaside boarding house where  summer guest Mrs. Page (Lesley Fera) has retreated to embrace the cozy comforts of being middle-aged. The unexpected arrival of a young man on a walking tour (Kevin Railsback) who happens to know (and is in love with) Mrs. Page’s daughter, a glamorous stage actress, prompts some sharp-witted exchanges and rueful confessions about aging, the blindness of infatuation, and the differences between theatrical artifice and genuine feeling.

“The Old Lady Shows Her Medals” delves deeper into unfulfilled longings with  a World War I-era encounter between an elderly charwoman (Penny Safranek) and a Scottish infantryman (Joe McGovern, sporting a hilarious pitch-perfect brogue) who's on leave from the trenches. McGovern’s flustered grappling with Safranek’s feisty defiance infuse their chemistry with quirky charm, culminating in a brilliantly offbeat—and touching—proposal. 

Both pieces are built on surprise plot twists that could easily come across as corny and maudlin. Co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Dewes deftly keep the focus on Barrie’s tough-minded, unsentimental insights into the human heart: above all, the bittersweet recognition that even our most magical connections are fleeting, and all the more precious for it.

-– Philip Brandes

“Barrie: Back to Back,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 7. $20-$30. (310) 822-8392 or Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Joe McGovern and Penny Safranek. Credit: Vitor Martins