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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Peter Pan

Or: “The Croc is Ticking”

I will confess that for the longest time I did not like the notion of Peter Pan at all. I recall, prim and curmudgeonly child that I was, being scandalized by this brazen, selfish, downright murderous scamp who snatches children from their families and gleefully delivers them into the very heart of danger. Needless, to say I always kept the window barred, and kept a good stout stick and a long iron nail by my bed to deal with the boy who not grow up and his homicidal fairy friday (among other things). But it takes a stonier heart than even mine to turn away when the delights of Neverland are tumbled like bright pebbles into your lap. In their production of J.M. Barrie’s original stage play, with its droll lines and “forth hedge” communications with the audience, Collin Quinn Rice and Maia Safani take the time to shows us the joys of this world, as well as the jagged edge of childhood that must sever what we wished to be and what we must become.

Wendy Darling (Erin Holiday) and her brothers John (Jacob Drummond) and Michael (Josette Nortman) are three perfectly content children of a pair of loving parents. But one night Wendy wakens to find a mysterious boy and a ball of light hunting about the nursery. Peter Pan (Martin Downs) and his fairy Tink (Jacobi Alvarez) entice the Darling children to fly to Neverland where they hunt with indians, gambol with the lost boys, and match swords and wits with the villainous pirates led by Captain Hook (Dylan Waikman). But, as in scrabble, Neverland is all fun and games until someone loses an “I”. As tension mounts between Wendy and her new found “family” she begins to long for the life she left behind, while the pirates hatch a plan that might put an end to Pan for good.

Created primarily from found objects and quaint shadow puppetry (with Pam Kranyak acting as production Dalang) and refreshingly devoid of wires and other airborne hazards, this Peter Pan is full of life and the proverbial beans. The cast tumbles about rigging up warrens and ships from blankets, and simulating flight and fight with all manner of nifty circus tricks. It is all very fun but sometimes lacks expediency, and we sometimes see less of children out world building and more of actors ably but obviously preparing the next scene.

But all this stopping and starting and sometimes confused transition turns insubstantial when found by the rays of the buoyant cast. The lost boys bring forth gusts of laughter as they so childishly tumble through life (with extra points to Tootles (Danial Liu) the schlimazel of the band). Waikman’s Hook is practically vaudevillian, backed up by his dour first mate Starky (Katie Incardona) and adorable Boatswain Smee (Danica Rosengren).

Two outstanding performances must be noted. Nanna (Justin Shannin) the Nursery Dog, is a crawl-on part but Shannin’s full commitment to doggishness and childcare are both deeply amusing (as she corrals her charges and prepares them for bed) and terribly painful (when she loses them or is treated by ‘like a dog’). Equally matched in commitment and thoroughness Tink who, even as she carries exhibits the accustomed grace and swiftness of the beloved little mite, outdoes herself in erraticisms: her snide murmerings, her smirkings and sneerings and snorts of “Akkeekehbeh!” (‘You silly *ss’ in pixie). It’s hard to focus on Wendy and Peter’s first meeting (though Alvarez graciously knows when to tune down or spike up the antics) as our eye is drawn to Tink’s indignation at being shut up (quite cleverly) in a drawer and her outrage at the young mortal who is chastely romance’in her man, and throughout the play we always check to see her display of exasperated affection for Peter and growing the smallest smidgin of respect for her rival. Holiday’s Wendy paints a detailed portrait of a young lady with a good head on her shoulders, struggling between the call of adventure and the promise of her life back home. Never wracked or wrung, she lets these physiological battles be colored by Wendy’s actual actions and intentions, hinting never expounding. Downs too makes a triumph of the underplayed but still delightfully energetic Peter, eagerly spinning rolling and leaping across the room. Wrapped up in a boy’s boundless entitlement and inquisitiveness and crowned by Barrie’s wit, Downs makes his mark by occasionally hinting to us what years of childhood and bloody battle have done to the poor boy’s mind and soul.

Mixed in with all the adventure and all the play is a poignancy that my bluenosed childhood self had never picked up upon. Peter’s breathless confrontation with Mrs. Darling (Alexandra Frisch) as well as Wendy’s own measured but sad decision to cast herself off from the boy who captured her heart, gave the piece a solid heftiness. As the cast cavorted and conferred and played among the trunks and bedsheets, dusted by a sprinkle of projected stars and the odd shadow of a white rat, I could see why so many others have flocked to this story over the century, and why so many others keep their windows open, just in case.

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