The cast of Sarah Ruhl's For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday, directed by Les Waters, at Playwrights Horizons.
The cast of Sarah Ruhl's For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday, directed by Les Waters, at Playwrights Horizons.
(© Joan Marcus)

In Sarah Ruhl's For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday, now running at Playwrights Horizons, a melancholy family reunion surrounding a father's death brings together five adult children who spend the slow-moving hours reflecting on their shared upbringing. For Ann, the eldest daughter (played by Kathleen Chalfant), memories of that upbringing prominently feature her performances as Peter Pan — the boy who wouldn't grow up — at her hometown children's theater.

For Ann, the theater has always been a place where growing up is optional. Real life, on the other hand, brings occasions that shock you into maturity when you least expect it. The play's five siblings take turns sharing the moments they first felt "grown up" (a question that is extended to audience members on a blackboard in the Playwrights Horizons lobby), so we decided to ask the same of the actors who have spent time pondering this subject onstage. We also wanted to know what they miss about childhood and how they recapture their own personal Neverlands.


Kathleen Chalfant — Ann

Kathleen Chalfant as a child (left) and in a scene from For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday (right).
Kathleen Chalfant as a child (left) and in a scene from For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday (right).
(© photo provided by Kathleen Chalfant/Joan Marcus)

What was the moment you first felt like an adult?
I think I first felt like an adult when I set off for Europe by myself at 17. I had a grown-up haircut and a grown-up hat and a lovely camel's hair coat (it was 1962). I'm afraid, though, that the feeling didn't last and I'm still waiting for it to come back.

What do you miss most about childhood?
The thing I miss most about childhood is playing running games in the summer darkness for hours and hours and hours.

What never fails to make you feel like a kid again?
Swimming makes me feel like a kid. I grew up in California and we spent most of our lives swimming in one place or another, and now, when I swim with my grandchildren and we do somersaults and cannonballs, it feels like we're all the same age.


David Chandler — Jim


(© Joan Marcus)

What was the moment you first felt like an adult?
I felt most like an adult when I became a father. To have another's life so utterly dependent on you in the way a child's is on its parents was a full immersion course in growing up.

What do you miss most about childhood?
I miss the new-ness, the first-ness of things that I too often take for granted as an adult. This is why one's own children — and now for me my first grandchild — are so critical to one's happiness. Everything is all so blessedly fresh and unsullied. By the same token, the terrors of childhood are as present as the wonder. And those I don't miss — because I wrestle with them still.

What never fails to make you feel like a kid again?
Reading to my children was a way of revisiting my own childhood. The first snow of winter. Halloween. Riding my bike. Hiking and camping and kayaking. Being in the theater, particularly in rehearsal, digging deep and skipping high and, in general, just frolicking one's way to some kind of truth.


Lisa Emery — Wendy


(© Joan Marcus)

What was the moment you first felt like an adult?
I was five years old, at night in my PJs, and my dad had left the living room for a moment and I picked up the cigarette he'd left burning in the ashtray and his half-full bottle of beer and tried different poses with them in front of a dark window that served as a mirror.

What do you miss most about childhood?
Summer nights with a gang of neighborhood kids running free in a backyard catching lightning bugs and playing Sardines and hearing our parents off in the dark murmuring, laughing, ice clinking in glasses.

What never fails to make you feel like a kid again?
My dad took us to the movies every Saturday afternoon when we were little. Now I go regularly every other Friday and always get that same thrilled sense in my stomach when the movie begins.


Daniel Jenkins — John

Daniel Jenkins as a child (left) and in a scene from For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday (right).
Daniel Jenkins as a child (left) and in a scene from For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday (right).
(© photo provided by Daniel Jenkins/Joan Marcus)

What was the moment you first felt like an adult?
Still waiting for that one. I have a hunch I'm getting older, but not sure about the growing-up part.

What do you miss most about childhood?
I grew up on a farm, so I think I miss the daily communion with animals, the woods, and streams and stars at night.

What never fails to make you feel like a kid again?
Gummy treats. Which seem to be very popular with this cast and crew…!


Keith Reddin — Michael


(© Joan Marcus)

What was the moment you first felt like an adult?
I guess I first felt like an adult the first time I took a bus and then subway into Manhattan by myself. I went downtown to the New School and took a night adult education literature class. It was scary but thrilling, sitting in a classroom as a kid with retired people talking about Irish writers.

What do you miss most about childhood?
I miss not worrying about getting drenched or muddy or torn up playing in rainstorms. Now I carry an umbrella on overcast days.

What never fails to make you feel like a kid again?
I never fail to feel like a child when I'm onstage. Just like Kathy Chalfant says in the play: In the theater, for a little while, you don't have to grow up. There is that wonderful sense of play, of wonder, of discovery. Everything is for the first time and you have to forget you learned anything and be totally free and silly.