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"This is the way the universe begins," says the Narrator in his introduction to Craig Wright's poetic, poignant, and profound play about the human condition. The narrator relates the steps necessary to create life, from drops of water to things crawling ashore to "minds that blink to life like sudden stars." Surely inspired by Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Wright's play sometimes creaks with self-conscious profundity; most often, though, it sings. Set at the 20th anniversary reunion of the Pine City High School class of 1981, the play centers on the "class sweethearts" couple, Kari and Peter, who broke up when he went away to college. This reunion will be the last in an old dance pavilion at the edge of the lake. Immediately following the last dance, the pavilion will be torched to make way for a stadium. The play's major themes are bitterness, regret, memory, complacency, the need for forgiveness, and the transience of life. That's a big order for one playwright and a three-actor play, but Wright delivers.

The childless Kari (Julie Evan Smith) is unhappily married to the local golf pro. A psychologist on the brink of midlife angst, Peter (Mark Moses) seeks to reignite their passion. The disdainful and bitchy Kari rebuffs him. Also the keeper of time, the Narrator (deftly played by Stephen D'Ambrose) steps into the action, creates small-town ambience, and through his portrayals of numerous classmates, including a pot-smoking mayor, reveals hints of what happened 20 years ago.

The play's lyricism and beauty are fully captured by director Craig Noel, who fields a crackerjack ensemble to perform a play so delicate it could be ruined with a lesser touch. Moses shows passion and depth, while Smith displays range, sensitivity, and assurance. David Ledsinger's sandy shore and pavilion are exquisite. Christine Dougherty is the costume designer, and Paul Peterson creates a subtle sound design. Kent Dorsey's lighting design was absent on the afternoon reviewed due to a computer failure, but in the case of The Pavilion, a play so dependent upon the light of words that take one's breath away, it was hardly missed.

"The Pavilion," presented by the Globe Theatres at the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Balboa Park, San Diego. Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m. Sept. 9-Oct. 20. $35-45. (619) 239-2255.

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