A modern & magical “Peter Pan” presented by Lookingglass Theatre
Lookingglass Theatre’s production of “Peter Pan” has been extended through January 23rd, and it’s a show I think should be seen by all who enjoy classic children’s literature and intelligently written, high-energy physical theater.
Director/Adapter Amanda Denhert has created an ultra-physical, incredibly modern take on the J.M. Barrie classic. Make no mistake, though children (played by adult actors) tell the tale in this “Peter Pan,” and though all the requisite pirates and faeries and flying are there, it’s a very mature tale.
I was incredibly impressed by Denhert’s adaptation, and the risky chances she took in bringing it to the stage. J.M. Barrie’s book remains the center of attention as actors read/narrate directly from the original text. As the darkness of the original text is often glossed over in favor of more kid-friendly elements, this helps the show keep it’s dark fairy tale feel. The most notable changes are the show lie in two familiar characters. First, Molly Brennan (a woman) plays the role of Smee (originally, a man.) In this version, Smee is hardly a portly bumbler. Instead, he’s a tattooed mother who came to Neverland looking for her own child, struggling with her own maternal instinct even while assisting Captain Hook in tracking down Pan and the Lost Boys. The second biggest change in the production is the elimination of the whole “Indian” aspect. Tiger Lily has become simply Lily, the Lost Girl, jumping into the adventures and serving as a voice of reason on more than one occasion. Played with strength by Ericka Ratcliff, Lily puts up a fight until her tragic ending. (Brennan’s face at the reveal of Lily’s death is an example of this unique actress’ immense talent.)
Denhert benefits from the performances turns in by her sparkling cast. At the performance I attended, the title role of Peter was played by understudy Steve Lenz, but had there not been a program insert informing me of this I never would have known Lenz hadn’t played the role at every performance. He didn’t miss a bratty, impulsive, cocky moment as the boy who won’t grow up. Opposite Peter, Kay Kron shines as a wide-eyed, lovely Wendy, and Jamie Abelson and Alex Weisman are perfection as John and Michael, the other two Darling children. Breaking from the tradition of Tinkerbell being played by a beam of light, Aislinn Mulligan turns in an athletic, tomboyish performance. Thomas J. Cox struts around like a steampunk Captain Hook, obsessed with “good form.” His final moments, almost a mental breakdown, are staggeringly well-delivered. There isn’t a single member of the ensemble cast who isn’t completely genuine, charming, and totally focused on the work at hand. (I must, MUST single out the adorable Royer Bockus, who plays the role of Nana – even though she doesn’t want to bark, she just wants to talk normally. This girl is straight up funny.)
The fight and flight scenes are breathtaking, with actors often clipping themselves to a rope and taking flight right in front of you. The cast members seem comfortable with the ropes and physical demands, and it all comes off as a breeze to them. For the climactic battle scene between Pan and Hook, set pieces are wheeled around while actors leap from one to another in a remarkable display of choreography and coordination.
As always, this is a “Peter Pan” about growing up and the loss of imagination. However, in this “Peter Pan,” the element of parent and child is heightened, and the stakes seem higher than ever for Wendy and the Darling children.
Get your tickets before this wonderful show must close to make room for Lookingglass’ next production, “Ethan Frome” (which, based off the strengh of “Peter Pan,” I will absolutely be attending.)