For Jeffrey Allan Davis and Drew Griffith, co-founders of Princeton-based Chimera Productions, every theatrical production is a challenge — for themselves and the audience. “We go out of our way to pick plays that make people think,” says Griffith. “Hopefully when people leave, they’ve had an active art experience. Live theater is dependent on the audience because there’s an interaction that is invaluable. Watching the same production on your TV is not the same experience.”
So, turn off your TV, get off the couch, and come to the Robert L. Solley Theater at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts in Princeton, for Chimera Productions’ staging of “The Pavilion,” Thursday through Saturday, August 19 through 21. Presented by the Arts Council of Princeton, “The Pavilion” will be directed by Griffith, while Davis acts in the three-person play.
Written by playwright and screenwriter Craig Wright (“Lost,” “6 Feet Under,” “Brothers and Sisters”), “The Pavilion” weaves romance and comedy to explore unresolved feelings of love with the consequences of choices. The character Peter, played by Davis, returns to his 20th high school reunion with dreams of winning back Kari (Janet Quarterone), the girl he left behind after an unexpected pregnancy ended their relationship.
Standing in his way is Kari’s bitter-as-ever resentment, her husband (who remains offstage), and the fact that Peter still hasn’t grown up. As the night progresses both Peter and Kari are led, through their interactions with a host of characters all played by a virtuosic Narrator (David Sullivan), to face the consequences of choices made years before and start back into life with newfound strength and bittersweet resolve. The play has been hailed by critics as an “‘Our Town’ for our time.”
“Peter and Kari are going back to a sentimental time,” says Davis. “They were very important to each other, and their romance ended very badly. My character would like to reconcile, make amends, and get that feeling back, but Kari will never, ever forgive him. These are two people who have hurt each other, looking for redemption.”
Davis, a Plainsboro resident, and Griffith, who lives in Jamesburg, take pains and plenty of time to choose a play. Griffith allows that reading and choosing a work is his least favorite part of the process. “I’m more of a visual person. Put a play in front of me, and I just want to see it,” he says. “But we take a lot into consideration when choosing. For example, what about the set? Can we do it based on certain limitations? We never limit ourselves, though, because if it’s great, we’ll figure out a way to do it.”
“We probably read about 15 plays when we go through the picking process,” Davis says. “This year it wasn’t too bad, in fact we picked up on ‘The Pavilion’ early on. When we finished reading them all, this was the one we liked the best, mainly because of the language. It’s beautiful writing with intriguing characters, and the plot is a story everyone will be able to connect with. I don’t know much about the playwright, but I went to a drama book store in New York, gave them an idea of what we’d done before, what we like in playwrights, and ‘The Pavilion’ was one of the plays they suggested to us.”
“It’s a great play about relationships, time, and what you do with the time you’re given,” Griffith says. “It explores characters who have come in and out of everyone’s life, and paints them in small silhouettes and portraits, captures who these people really are and how they have affected each other.”
While “The Pavilion” is a drama, it’s also full of laughs — kind of like real life. “There are great moments of levity and great moments of studious exposition,” Griffith says.
Davis, 43, grew up in New York City, but moved with his mother to Princeton as a teen, when she remarried. Writing runs in his family, with his mother, Flora Davis, a noted journalist and writer of non-fiction works, including “Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960.” His father was a historian and speechwriter, crafting speeches for such groups as the National Urban League.
“I was at a pretty young age when I realized I wanted to be an actor, but since mom and dad were both writers, they supported me, they understood the creative impulse,” Davis says. “When we lived in New York, we often went to the theater, and I also took acting classes and just loved it. I always knew I wanted to act.”
A graduate of Princeton High School’s class of 1986, Davis has fond memories of being involved in theater there. “My acting teacher, Maureen West, was a mentor, and Carol Wimberg, the theater teacher at PHS, also inspired me,” he says. Davis went on to Mercer County College, and then the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, graduating in 1999. Since then, he has tried his hand at a little bit of everything theatrical. He had a comedy sketch group in Philadelphia at one time, taught theater, directed plays, and designed sets and lighting.
“I love it all, and am comfortable doing any of it,” he says. “For a long time, I thought I was an actor, but then I discovered that I am an acting teacher,” Davis says. “I love being on the stage but teaching is what I was put on earth to do.” He is currently in his sixth year at East Brunswick High School. He also taught in Franklin Township for five years, and simultaneously taught at the Somerset County High School of the Performing Arts and the Mercer County High School of the Performing Arts.
Griffith, 33, is a native of central New Jersey, who grew up in East Brunswick, Cranbury, and Princeton. He says although his father wasn’t employed in the arts, his family was never against creativity. “My father played the trumpet, my brother is a musician, my sister is a sketch artist, so there was always art in the family,” he says. Griffith’s day job is with ADK Graphics, his family’s print and design firm based in Robbinsville.
Griffith’s passion is writing, and he specifically sought out Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., because the college offers a major in creative writing. He earned a BFA in 1999.
The two partners formed Chimera Productions less than a decade ago, after meeting “over cigars” at A Little Taste of Cuba, the cigar aficionado’s haven on Witherspoon Street in Princeton.
“We’re both into cigars, and we met there, started talking and became friends, eventually founding Chimera together,” Davis says. “Drew was already doing some activities with the Arts Council of Princeton, so we decided to approach them about doing some theater. We started at the alternative space they were using while the current venue was under construction (the former ConTEMPORARY Arts Center on Harrison Street.) We were actually the first theatrical group to perform in the new space, and we’ve come back every summer.”
Both men express praise and gratitude for the Arts Council of Princeton. “Over the years, they’ve really nurtured us, and they don’t put restrictions on us,” Griffith says. “We have full creative control, but we work together to make that productive for everyone. Jeff Nathanson (the Arts Council’s executive director) has especially been a great supporter and friend.
“We’ve seen success for all the shows we’ve done there, and we’ve built a nice following in the area,” Griffith adds. “We like that we’re presented by the Arts Council. We’re not only using their building, we love that we’re a kind of team. It makes for a great relationship, and everyone is really invested, 100 percent devoted to their tasks.”
“The Pavilion,” Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street. Thursday through Saturday, August 19 to 21, 8 p.m. Chimera Productions presentation of a drama by Craig Wright about a 20th high school reunion. $10. Chimera Productions on the web: www.facebook.com/chimeraproductions 609-924-8777. www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.