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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Dear Brutus

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.— William Shakespeare
Three things they say come not back to men nor women. . .the spoken word, the past life, and the neglected opportunity. Wonder if we should make any more of them, Alice, if they did come back to us. — Will Dearth.

Dear Brutus
Jessica Berman and Geoff Elliott in Dear Brutus.
Everybody knows J. M. Barrie's fantasy Peter Pan and many people know his poignant ghost story Mary Rose which Alfred Hitchcock optioned, but never lived to shoot. That play was done here in the 1980s at the Gene Dynarski Theatre on Sunset and more recently Off-Broadway.

A Noise Within has mounted the rarely performed but equally haunting Dear Brutus, whose theme of a second chance is just as relevant today. Though Barrie wrote the play in 1917, there is no reference to World War I, sweeping Europe at that time. As in most of his plays, Barrie focused on the worlds of fantasy and imagination.

If you lived in England in 1917 and were lucky or foolish enough to accept an invitation to a house party from a total stranger named Lob, you, too, might find yourself in a mysterious wood that only appears on Midsummer Eve. Lob is another name for Puck or Robin Goodfellow and the wood may also be borrowed from Shakespeare's play but the whimsy, humor and imagination are pure Barrie.

The three couples and two women who are propelled through Lob's French doors into the wood are joined by Matey, the butler, who is physically propelled after them by Lob. There they learn that a philanderer doesn't change his stripes, a woman may always marry the wrong man and a man may fall in love with the same woman all over again. The artist Will Dearth and his wife Alice may be shocked by tragedy into a might-have-been life.

Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott draws out the realism and foibles in the Barrie characters while wisely keeping the production true to 1917. She could hardly have done otherwise given the mores of the era, especially the demarcation line between a mademoiselle and a madame demonstrated by Margaret, Will Dearth's fantasy daughter, who shows him how she'll look when she puts up her hair. "The Margaret that is to be", he muses but Margaret has the unforgettable second act curtain line, "I don't want to be a might-have-been!" This role was Helen Hayes' debut and indicates a bright future for intuitive newcomer Jessica Berman.

The cast includes Erin Bennett as the haughty Lade Caroline, Abby Craden as the passionate Joanna, Bruce Turk as the ever-amorous Jack Purdie, Jill Hill as his wretched wife Mabel who metamorphoses into a woodland sprite, Sally Smythe and Mitchell Edmonds as the charming elderly couple Mr. and Mrs. Coade, William Dennis Hunt as Matey the burglar-turned-butler, Steve Weingartner in the performance viewed as the puckish Lob, Geoff Elliott as an alcoholic artist whose true self comes to touching and honest life in the woods and Deborah Strang as his bitter wife Alice whose pride results in a fall which doesn't change her pretensions.

Michael C. Smith's set design and Soojin Lee's costumes are exquisite, complemented by Ken Booth's lighting design and, most especially, by Laura Karpman's fey mood music. Lighted globes playfully floating through the night bridge the transition from country house to magical wood.

Despite its anachronisms and a father-daughter scene in Act II in which Barrie indulges in too much whimsy too long, Dear Brutus remains a relevant lesson in the uses of enchantment.

Playwright: J. M. Barrie
Director: Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
Cast: Deborah Strang (Mrs. Dearth), Abby Craden (Joanna Trout), Sally Smythe (Mrs. Coade), Jill Hill (Mabel Purdie), Erin Bennett (Lady Caroline), William Dennis Hunt (Matey), Robert Towers, Steve Weingartner (Lob), Bruce Turk (Jack Purdie), Mitchell Edmonds (Mr. Coade), Geoff Elliott (Will Death), Jessica Berman (Margaret), Elizabeth Bates, Raymond Gaston (Servants
Set Design: Michael C. Smith
Lighting Design: Ken Booth
Costume Design: Soojin Lee
Sound Design: Rachel Myles
Composer: Laura Karpman
Running Time: Two hours, one intermission
Running Dates: In repertory through Dec. 16
Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, Reservations: (818) 240-0919 x 1
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 11..

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