Dear Brutus: A Neverland for Grown-ups

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Regent University Theatre’s latest show comes from J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. While I personally love the boy who wouldn’t grow up, pirates and mermaids and flights of fantasy aren’t for everyone. Dear Brutus, however, brings Neverland to the grown-ups. A peculiar mix of guests receive mysterious invitations to the home of the puckish Lob for midsummer eve. They soon find themselves in an enchanted moonlit wood where dreams and wishes come true. When presented with the opportunity for a second chance, everyone wants to see if the grass really is greener on the other side. This show’s strong characters and amazing technical design immersed the audience in another world for one magical night.

The Dear Brutus parlor set, Feb. 2019. (Ryen Stone)

The Enchanting Design

Director Eric Harrell has done it once again, recreating this whimsical midsummer’s night with a visually interesting set, intuitive lighting, and beautiful costumes. We begin the show in the puckish Lob’s parlor, as tastefully mad as the man himself. Mismatched chairs, faded rugs, and pops of red created a warm atmosphere that drew you right in to the show – though your eye couldn’t help but stray to the glass doors in the back. This part of the set almost dripped in flowers and foliage marking the entrance to the secret forest. The lights played a large role here in transporting the audience to the enchanted woods, playfully flickering bright colors as characters approached or were sent to the other side.

A technical highlight of the show was the initial scene change from the parlor to the forest: the crew rushed out, an energetic score playing, flipping the rugs over to reveal the forest floor. The frenzy was comical to say the least. When lights embedded in the set floor sparkled to life, however, my chuckles ceased. The lighting in the moonlit woods was beautiful, the blues capturing a sense of longing and reverence.

The muted colors of the set suited both the parlor and the forest, but allowed the costumes to shine in their own right. Set in the 1920’s, around when Dear Brutus originally debuted, the Gatsby-esque fashion of this show was striking and professed the wealth of the main characters. Mrs. Dearth’s draping beaded headpiece and Lob’s strange red moccasins were among my favorites. In the wood, however, the costumes turned from a range of hues to only white with red accents, and a more casual “English summer” vibe than the former bedazzled pieces. This decision set the forest version of the character apart from the original – and what can I say, I’m a sucker for color coordination. On the whole, the costuming was unified and accurately reflected the characters’ personalities.

Left to Right: Vincent Harrill as Matey, Dayton Willison as Lob, Cassidy Watkinson as Joanna, Whitney Bates as Mabel, Feb. 2019. (Ryen Stone)

The Acting

All that being said – and believe me, I could go on – a set does not tell a story in itself. There needs to be people to interact with it, and Dear Brutus‘s cast brought it. While the first few minutes of every play will always be a tad awkward as the crowd warms up and the actors settle in, this three-act play flew by. Knowing only the tagline “a Neverland for grown-ups” going in, I was more than pleased to see Dayton Willison’s Lob played like an old-man Peter Pan. If Peter ever did grow up, this is he. Willison’s childishness, eccentricity, and sporadic energy was fun to watch amid the initially stodgy elites.

Initially, I had trouble picking out some of the ‘types’ of characters Lob picked for his special evening. Once the actors hit their stride, however, we were in for a ride. Remember that the actors had to play essentially two different versions of their characters. In the woods, Ashley Hawkins’ cool and witty Lady Caroline performs the most drastic one-eighty, becoming manically obsessed with the butler-transformed-lawyer Matey (played by Vincent Harrill). The role reversals in the love triangle between Joanna, Mabel and John Purdie were hilarious, but Ashley O’Leary’s Margaret was among my favorite characters. In so many plays, actors over-do child characters, either making cliche physical choices or adopting a ridiculous voice. Leary, however, really sold me on Margaret; her relationship with her father, Mr. Dearth, was truly heartwarming and bittersweet. Though the scene seemed to drag on a bit, that’s more Barrie’s fault than the actor’s. 

As a devout Pan-fan, Regent’s production of Dear Brutus pleasantly surprised me. Any initial skepticism I had soon evaporated under the magic and whimsy of one midsummer’s night.

Upcoming Shows

Regent University SecondStage presents These Shining Lives, the poignant story of women working in a watch factory. Little known to them, the radium-infused glow-in-the-dark paint they use to paint the watch dials causes cancer. Their fight for justice and for life itself reveals their strength of character. (Very limited seating!)

Where: Theater 128

When:  Mar. 22 & 23,  29 & 30 @ 7:30 p.m.; Mar. 24 & 31 @ 2:30 p.m.

This year’s spring musical is Little Women! A retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved four sisters coming of age in Civil War-era America – with the glorious music, sentimental story line, and all those petticoats, you’ll be transported into the 19th century.

Where: Main Theater

When: Apr. 26 & 27, May 3 & 4 @ 7:30 p.m.; Apr. 28 & May 5 @ 2:30 p.m.

Tickets for both shows can be purchased at the Box Office located in the Communications Building (Monday through Friday, 1-5 p.m.) or online.

Sara Waits is the senior editor for the Daily Runner.