Opening Nights: Mr. Pim Passes By

Mr. Pim Passes By

Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., 781-9705, $20–$40. 7:30 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat. Ends March 1.

In early adulthood I acquired an affinity for Winnie-the-Pooh. A.A. Milne’s ability to amuse grownups and children astounded me. As such, Taproot’s production of Mr. Pim Passes By proves Milne’s power to charm in others genres.

In this 1919 drawing-room comedy, Dinah (Allie Pratt) wants to marry Brian (Daniel Stoltenberg) but cannot without the approval of her uncle and guardian, George (Ryan Childers), though they have the approval of her aunt Olivia (April Poland). This is complicated further when befuddled Mr. Pim (Chris Ensweiler) enters, creating confusion and mayhem with his questions about true love. All this happens under the critical eye of Lady Marden (Kim Morris).

These stock characters do teeter on the brink of absurd typicality; fortunately, the cast finds the balance to make them completely believable. As the ingénue, Pratt brings just enough flair for annoying teenage self-expression to avoid caricature. While Olivia could descend into conniving and emasculation (a perforated line is all that separates her from shrewishness), Poland adds love and playfulness to the part. As enchanting as the Hundred-Acre Wood, Mr. Pim (and its performances) trump the distracting direction and design.

Except for Roberta Russell’s subtle lighting, this production is a visual eyesore, Spirograph meets Etch-a-Sketch. In his angular set design, Mark Lund places portraits above the room’s French doors. Have you ever gone to someone’s home and seen large artworks hung that high? (Adding further distraction, when characters here allude to their dead kin, they point—and strain their necks—to their lofty ancestors.) Sarah Burch Gordon’s costumes—with stripes, prints, and argyles galore—deliver more shapes, colors, and patterns than a Kandinsky painting. Director Karen Lund’s awkward single-plane blocking forces much unmotivated movement; it’s like watching my cat and dog play—a mishmash of motion with no reason behind it.

Now I need to go appreciate my artworks at home, hung at eye-level as God intended.

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