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A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
He may be "the boy who wouldn't grow up," but this Peter Pan has. It's not, mind you, that Irondale Ensemble Project's very satisfying production has taken one of our classic children's stories and transformed it into adult theater. The darker contours on display are precisely what J. M. Barrie had in mind. What makes it seem so curious is that our impressions are, for the most part, conditioned by the far-lighter Disney and Broadway versions. So this is a Peter Pan for "us," rather than another entry in the holiday kiddie cavalcade.
Barrie actually wrote the story several times, and as both a novel and a play. Irondale's version relies heavily on the book, and employs Barrie (Damen Scranton) as the narrator. It's a risky proposition (a similar device was employed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird in London two decades ago) in which Barrie rather than the title character ends up as the central role. It works very well here principally because Scranton is a terrific storyteller. The narrative, which includes much of the author's best writing, fades into scenes in which eight actors fluidly portray over two dozen characters; Scranton blends well, even portraying one of those characters.
Ken Rothchild's set design establishes the tone. (The director calls it a Lord of the Rings sensibility.) This Peter (Jack Lush) doesn't fly -- he's more of a gymnast -- but the set provides a jungle gym of sorts fashioned from ladders, a wall of cargo netting, some ramps and slides and a pole: it's an energetic and effective alternative.
This Peter is also quite a bit more of a "man" that the "boy" you may expect. It has been a "tradition" for Peter Pan to be cast with a woman, a path not followed here. There's nothing feminine or even particularly gay (Victorian definition) about Lush's Peter; it makes his obliviousness to Wendy's (the engaging Rezeile Caravaca) rather sexual energy, and the depth of his neediness for a mother figure, and indeed the character itself, more compelling. The fantasy aspect of the play is very much engaged in Irondale's staging, but it is far more psychological -- less of the buoyant fairy tale than it has familiarly become. I'll leave to others the assaying of the psychodynamics, Jungian analysis and the rest.
I'll also steer away from detailing the story -- the essentials of which are no doubt known to all but the most sheltered readers. The production, likewise, doesn't bear down on the details; if it has a shortcoming, it is that it doesn't adequately convey them for a novice audience. But for those familiar with the plight of the Lost Boys, and the mix of fairies, mermaids, pirates, "redskins" and a crocodile that inhabit Neverland, all will be easy to follow.
Another of the casting traditions is that the same actor plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, and Michael-David Gordon does indeed undertakes both. His stentorian father is too cartoonish but he's better as Hook, though in this version the character never seems to get the spotlight as much as he ought to. In a shift of typical role reversals, one of the boys is played by a girl (Patrena Murray, as Michael, among others). Perhaps the most memorable portrayal of all is the crocodile, not creditable to one actor but to tremendous collaboration by multiple actors, choreographer Sarah Adams, lighting designer Randy Glickman and Walter Thompson and the three members of his orchestra who perform (quite persuasively in all respects) live at at stage left. Irondale seems to take great pride in the ensemble nature of its organization; we are the beneficiaries of the well-honed result.
I don't normally review the collateral materials provided by a theater company, but Irondale's deserves mention. A large eight page newsletter is chock full of articles, most written by company members including the director and cast members, that provide a depth of background knowledge on the forces at play in Peter Pan, its history and significance. Make sure to pick up a copy.
In the Jungle of the City
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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