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Peter Pan and Wendy

"We may be young but we know what we are fighting for," — the children in Peter Pan and Wendy
Sinclair Daniel (Wendy) and Justin Mark (Peter Pan) in Peter Pan and Wendy at Shakespeare Theatre.(Photo credit: Teresa Castracane)
Now six months into being the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre, Simon Godwin (the father of twins) has identified a need for good family entertainment, especially at this time of the year. That's why Peter Pan and Wendy, a new adaptation by Lauren Gunderson of J. M. Barrie's classic play, currently at the Shakespeare Theatre is so welcome. What a pleasant change from A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker.

Peter Pan and Wendy has been updated in various ways. Particularly in the character of Wendy who wants to become a scientist rather than attend a finishing school as her parents had planned. Gone is the icky sweet, Tinkerbell. She's been replaced by a pistol with a delicious sense of humor. And Peter Pan, he's almost a regular kid who does not want to grow up. Instead of spouting cliches he is more prone to a contemporary vernacular (without f-bombs) and comes out with some delicious lines such as his take on Tiger Lily: "she's like a cousin you have to hang out with."

Hanging out with this Peter Pan, (played with great charm and agility by Justin Mark), is fun. He's well matched by Wendy (nicely portrayed by Washingtonian Sinclair Daniel) who, unlike previous Wendy's, has a brain that she uses. Her particular gift is story telling which her siblings, the studious and nerdy John (Christopher Flaim) and Michael (the cute-as-a-button Chauncey Chestnut), appreciate.

About Tinkerbell. She's nothing like the Tinkerbell's of old. This Tink (Jenni Barber, who doubles as Mrs. Darling) talks New Jersey and looks like Vegas. Dressed in glitz (courtesy of costume designer Loren Shaw) she's one tough cookie, with killer comic timing. There's more comedy in Peter Pan and Wendy than previous versions because of the lines given to Captain Hook (Derek Smith who also plays Mr. Darling) and Smee (Tom Story, Washington's favorite comic actor). Maybe it's because the parts are better written or maybe it's because Smith and Story perform so well together in delivering the jokes. Smith is particularly funny (and politically incorrect) in the way he uses his hook.

Over in Neverland, Tiger Lily (Isabella Star LaBlanc) holds the stage talking negatively about the colonization of her Native American land. Fair enough. LaBlanc struts across the stage and makes the author's point forcefully but the scene goes on so long momentum is lost.

Much praise is due to Director Alan Paul who keeps all the players in motion. But he should share that honor with many others: scenic designer Jason Sherwood has given the production a beautiful bedroom in an Edwardian house, a splendid ship, an underwater scene with big bubbles and most importantly a massive crocodile who burps after a "meal". Loren Shaw's costumes are all fine but the outfit worn by Tinkerbell is truly inspired. The tricks lighting designer Isabella Byrd has come up with are appropriate. But a lot of praise belongs to Paul Rubin who choreographed the flying sequences that include Peter Pan's midair flips and, in the second act, a mermaid who "swims" across the sea.

All in all this is a very pleasant overhaul of a tried-and-true but somewhat tired classic. Gunderson is currently the most produced playwright in the U.S. Her Peter Pan and Wendy will only add to that achievement.

On the way home my companion, Cole, age 6, noted that "Neverland is much nicer than Washington, D.C." I second his review.

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Peter Pan and Wendy
By J. M. Barrie
Adapted by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Alan Paul
Scenic Design by Jason Sherwood
Costume Design by Loren Shaw
Lighting Design by Isabella Byrd
Sound Design by John Gromada
Flying Sequences Choreographed by Paul Rubin
Fight Choreography by David Leong

Cast: Sinclair Daniel (Wendy Darling); Jenni Barber (Mrs. Darling/Tinkerbell); Christopher Flaim (John Darling); Chauncey Chestnut (Michael Darling); Derek Smith (Mr. Darling/Captain Hook); Bailey (Nana); Justin Mark (Peter Pan); Isabella Star LaBlanc (Tiger Lily); Francisco Gonzalez (Tootles); Ronen Lewis (Curly); Joriah Kwame (Slightly); Darren Alford (Twin); Tendo Nsubuga (Twin); Tom Story (Smee); Michael Glenn (Jukes); Calvin McCullough (Noodler); Gregory Wooddell (Starkey); Oliver Archibald, Megan Huynh, and Joseph Respicio (ensemble).

Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Shakespeare Theatre;; Performances December 3, 2019 to January 12, 2020. Reviewed by Susan Davidson at December 15, 2019 performance.

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