By Heather Rosen
Resist rules and live out your dreams! Never give up the fight against evildoers! Women can do anything that men can do! These are the messages of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) modern retelling of the story of Peter Pan, titled Peter Pan and Wendy. Not only is more of Wendy’s story written into Lauren Gunderson’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, but we hear Tiger Lily’s story as well, which in many ways changes what this story is “about”. And while some people will love the politically correct and feminist changes, and others will prefer the classic tale, director Alan Paul’s show is highly-entertaining for people of all ages. And because this was a STC production, the sets were gorgeous, and the acting was impeccable.
But isn’t this a show for children? Why is a Shakespeare company doing Peter Pan? While Peter Pan is often seen as a story for children and about children, others believe it is really for and about adults who never wanted to grow up and still like hearing a good story (by coming to the theatre, for example.) In fact, there is an excellent article about this and about J.M. Barrie’s life in the program, written by Dramaturg Drew Lichtenberg and Artistic Fellow Katherine Blauvelt. The article also draws parallels between Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Peter Pan (both have fairies, Neverland is the magical woods, and Peter Pan is reminiscent of Puck – aha!)
So are the kids going to like this adaptation of the story, performed by Shakespearean actors?
This show is very accessible for all ages and genders and kids were laughing out loud during the performance. Also, STC put some real thought and effort into creating some extra fun for the kids. There is a separate program for kids that includes a description of the characters (including “Nana,” the live dog who stole every one of his scenes – good boy!) It also contains information on the fashion of Neverland (along with a coloring opportunity), a pirate-themed guide/map explaining how the show was made, and a “Day in Neverland” Mad Libs-style game. And there is a special coloring and activities area in the lobby, as well as a social media-ready backdrop that adults and kids can stand against and appear to have fairy wings (hello next year’s family holiday card photo.) And of course, there are still pirates, an impetuous glowing fairy, and several people who fly around the stage.
Is there enough to keep teens and adults entertained too? Definitely. While most elements of the original play still exist, this version includes some very funny lines written for Captain Hook (played by Derek Smith, who also plays Mr. Darling) and his sycophant sidekick, Smee (played by Tom Story) that were clearly written for adults. These two veteran actors had perfect comedic timing. Also, this version of the show will make you think. Wendy (played by Sinclair Daniel) is interested in studying science instead of going to finishing school, against the wishes of her parents. There is also a commentary on competition among women directed at Tinkerbell (played by Jenni Barber, who also plays Mrs. Darling), the fairy who is notoriously jealous of any girl who talks to Peter.
But the most significant change to the story involves Tiger Lily (played by Isabella Star LaBlanc). In early performances, Tiger Lily is an indigenous person who was depicted in such a racist way that her character was simply left out of later versions of the play so as not to offend anyone. In this adaptation, Tiger Lily has a prominent role, and she tells us how Neverland – the utopia that Hook and Peter Pan are constantly fighting over - is actually the land of her people, that was stolen from them. And she is angry. To be honest, this made me feel a bit uncomfortable because as we know, our ancestors did the same thing to the native Americans - and that was probably the point; however, the mood in the theater changed during that scene.
But this show was still a lot of fun. Justin Mark was a perfectly cast as the adventurous, undeterred Peter Pan, and the Lost Boys had great lines and excellent acting chops. Wendy’s brothers were also fun to watch, most notably, 12-year-old Chauncey Chestnut, who played Wendy’s youngest brother, Michael.
The sets and the lighting are also worth a mention – all beautifully designed by Jason Sherwood (sets), Isabella Byrd (lighting) and Jared Mezzocchi (projections). Peter’s shadow and the light representing little Tinkerbell were all magically brought to life onstage. James Ortiz also gave us an incredible giant puppet – the menacing crocodile that plagues Captain Hook.
I recommend taking a note from Wendy, John, Michael and Peter … leave home and fly over to Neverland, the land of dreams and magic, over the holidays. You’ll hear some really good stories, laugh, see some gorgeous set designs, and have some interesting topics to talk about at the dinner table (a history lesson on British colonialism anyone?)
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.