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The Return of Peter Grimm – Off Broadway Theater Review

 

THE PERMEATION OF LOVE

 

picture - The Return of Peter GrimmTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre 

published April 11, 2010 

 

The Return of Peter Grimm

now playing Off Broadway at the Metropolitan Playhouse 

through April 11 

 

While Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the family and friends of Peter Grimm have mixed reactions about his. Like a tender story told by the fireplace, David Belasco's The Return of Peter Grimm touches the heart even if it also slows down the pulse.  Despite the lack of momentum, it is the perfect complement to the Easter season because it uses death to right wrongs and express love.

 

Love may be a many explored thing in this production, but Alex Roe's direction does a fine job of distinguishing the real thing from a fabrication.  A well of genuine love exists between Peter Grimm (Frank Anderson), a wealthy business man, and his sweet-tempered orphan ward, Catherine Staats (Helen Highfield). Anderson's Grimm is consistently kindly and spirited, but never as much as when he interacts with Highfield, a newcomer to the Metropolitan Playhouse.  A young woman with a meager origin, Catherine finds understanding in her like-pedigreed and childhood friend James (Brad Fraizer), but Grimm, in an effort to keep her legally in his family, matches her with his nephew Frederik (Ken Ferrigni). 

 

In a role played by Ferrigni as slippery and as possessive as they come, it is easy to see that Frederik is not the best match for the virtuous Catherine; especially since Fraizer, even in James' poverty, plays the character more polished and composed than any of the Yankee roles that he has assumed with previous Metropolitan Playhouse productions.  But Catherine, indebted to Peter Grimm for taking her in, is determined to keep her promise to him that she marry Frederik.  It isn't until Peter's death and his subsequent supernatural return that everyone realizes the error in their ways and the price of real love.

 

Although the Spiritualist Movement – a religion that began in the mid-nineteenth century with the core belief that the dead can communicate with the living – is a key concept in The Return of Peter Grimm, the play only uses ghosts as a vehicle for love.  Not only does love overflow through the main plot, but it is also dominant in the subplot.  In addition to caring for Catherine, Grimm also looks after Willem, a flaxen-haired, sickly boy played earnestly by Matthew Hughes. Because Willem's story is more intimately tied to the afterlife, it is confounding that Belasco did not devote as much stage time to Willem as he does to Catherine, yet Belasco is still able to convey the enduring quality of love through this little charmer.  But Willem is not the only person or element that you'll find captivating.

 

Metropolitan Playhouse productions are always full of wonder and grace.  The Return of Peter Grimm is no exception.  Alex Roe's set and Sidney Fortner's costumes work together to create the romance and allure of 1920s New York, while Christopher Weston's lighting creates the mystery.  The performances, from veteran actors with the theater to those making their debut, are inspired and infused with technical skill.  But with all of the production's strengths, the performance still lacks a driving force that propels things forward, both conceptually and experientially.  The play lacks fruition conceptually because many questions surrounding death are left unanswered; thus writing about it and staging it will continue to be problematic.  Experientially, the plot moves forward sluggishly, demonstrating the caliber of the actors but providing no thrill at all when the theme itself is inherently exciting.

 

Peter Grimm's death may not have saved the world, but his return from death is an attempt to save one life and give hope to another.  Not everyone believes in speaking to the dead or learning anything from them, but everyone can connect to the possibility of correcting a mistake.  With its tempered pacing, The Return of Peter Grimm may appeal more to a mature demographic than the adventure-seeking, reality TV generation, but like truth, quality theater is universal and has the potential to bridge all gaps in age.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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