You won't see a Sandy Duncan-inspired Peter Pan flying through the air in the new production of J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan at the New Victory Theater. Nor will you see any green tights or hear much music. This production, staged by the Australian company Belvoir, revisits the classic story in a way you've probably never experienced before. With a talented and spry adult cast clad in pajamas and T-shirts, Belvoir has created a charming, often hysterical theater experience that kids and adults alike will enjoy.
The story is familiar to many people from Disney's animated film version as well as from numerous stage and television productions. Peter Pan (Meyne Wyatt), a boy who refuses to grow up, loses his shadow (Gareth Davies) in the bedroom of the Darling children after their mother (Paula Arundell) catches him sneaking around one night. When he returns to reclaim it, he meets Wendy Darling (Geraldine Hakewill), her brothers, Michael and John (Megan Holloway and Uli Latukefu, respectively), and the children's nanny, the dog Nana (the comical John Leary). Then Peter flies with the children back to Neverland. There Wendy becomes a surrogate mother to the Lost Boys, a motley gang led by Peter Pan, whose arch nemesis, Captain Hook (Charlie Garber), can't wait to get his hands (or rather, his hook and one hand) on the puckish Pan. Wendy tells the boys stories, battles are fought, villains are vanquished, and in the end all the children find their home — all but one, the ever youthful Peter Pan, who flies off into the night.
The plot, such as it is, is gauzy as gossamer; one scene often flows into the next without any discernible cause or effect holding them in place. That's Barrie's doing, not Belvoir's, though the script, adapted by Tommy Murphy from most of the available source material, does now and then admit inconsistencies, such as the kiss that Wendy gives Peter Pan, despite Barrie's explicit stage direction: "He is never touched by anyone in the play."
This, however, is a quibble. A cohesive story is not what gives Peter Pan (any production of it) its power and appeal. "I'm youth," cries Peter Pan, played with gusto by Wyatt, "I'm joy." It is a child's power of imagination and creativity that Barrie celebrates in his play, the unharnessed joy for life that adulthood often suppresses.
In that respect, the Belvoir production shines. This Peter Pan looks very much like children playing an imaginative, improvised game, without the adult contraptions of ornate sets, or wires to make actors fly. The set, designed by Robert Cousins, is the Darling children's bedroom, and it remains so for the entire play. This static scenery encourages audience members to use their imaginations whenever the location changes; the actors help out, of course, using the bedroom's paraphernalia to simulate rocks at sea and pirate ships and crocodiles.
No wires? So how do the children fly? Simple: Three other actors lie on their backs and support Wendy, Michael, and John with their feet. With arms outstretched, the children do indeed seem to fly. Who needs wires? And what about Tinker Bell? The sometimes potty-mouthed fairy (children in the audience giggle when she calls Peter Pan "a silly ass") is represented by flickering lamps and a bell rung by Harriet Dyer, who seamlessly morphs into no fewer than six different characters throughout the play. These are the sort of creative playtime antics in which children engage all the time, and they make you forget that you are, in fact, watching adults perform onstage.
Director Ralph Myers' production has a sometimes chaotic, surreal quality that does disorient from time to time: Actors shape-shift from one character to another without warning, and scene changes are sometimes unclear. But no matter. In the end, you have only to believe in the play and see it through a child's eyes. Have you forgotten how? Perhaps Belvoir's dreamlike Neverland will help you remember.
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