Sunday, July 08, 2007

Peter Pan

Alex and grandpa agree: ‘PETER PAN’ flies successfully at Porthouse

Following the Porthouse Theatre production of ‘PETER PAN,’ I asked Alex Berko, my 11-year old grandson, who serves as my “kid’s view of children centered plays,” what was the message of the play. He said, “Some people never want to grow up. They want to be kids forever.” I followed-up by asking, “Would you like to stay a kid forever?” He replied, “No, I want to experience everything in life.” (Ah, to be young and innocent.)

The story of Peter Pan centers on a mischievous boy who spends his never ending childhood having adventures on the island of Neverland as leader of the Lost Boys. The story features many fantastical elements, including Peter’s ability to fly and his friendship with a fairy named Tinkerbell. There is also a crocodile who stalks the fearsome Captain Hook, the pirate leader who is Peter's nemesis.

Barrie created Peter Pan in stories he told to the sons of his friend, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, with whom he had forged a special relationship. When Davies' death from cancer came within a few years after the death of her husband, Barrie was named as co-guardian of their boys and unofficially adopted them. These experiences are all alluded to directly and indirectly in the play.

In addition, the ticking clock within the crocodile, who seeks out Captain Hook is parallel to the time that is chasing after all of us. Some, in order to avoid the ticking clock seek physical youth through plastic surgery and pursuing the “fountain of youth.”

Other mind joggers are: What’s the role of women? What’s the function of motherhood? Is there a best way to bring up children? And, who are the true “bad guys?”

J. M. Barrie’s concept of eternal youth gave birth to a psychiatric term, “The Peter Pan Syndrome” used to describe adults who are afraid of commitment or refuse to act their age.

Peter Pan first appeared in print in 1902 in the book ‘THE LITTLE WHITE BIRD.’ In 1904 , a play version, ‘PETER PAN, OR THE BOY WHO WOULDN'T GROW UP,’ premiered in London.

The production at Porthouse, is an adaptation of various play versions and director Matthew Earnest’s imagination.

Just as with his wonderful production of ‘OUR TOWN,’ which was part of Porthouse’s 2006 season, Earnest pulls out all sorts of creative juices to give the show a “new” approach. He has added original music (don’t anticipate hearing “I Got to Crow,” or “I’ll Never Grow Up.” They aren’t included), has young adults playing the children, makes the audience use their imagination to create illusions, and has generally assembled a good cast to showcase his ideas. The visualization of Tinkerbelle, the creation of a “water-filled lagoon,” and boats floating around the stage, are all inspired concepts.

Emily Pote, who was a Times Theatre Tribute award winner for her portrayal of Emily in ‘OUR TOWN,’ again excels as Wendy. Monica Bell makes for a sympathetic and wise mother. Matthew Troillett is filled with wide-eyed wonder and youthful exuberance as Michael, Wendy’s youngest brother. Both Gabriel Riazi (Tootles, one of the lost boys) and Elizabeth Ann Townsend (Nana, the Darling families dog and child care keeper) are delightful.

Jonathan Ramos lacks the necessary charm and pluckiness of Peter. Most of his lines are presented with little affect. He lacks facial expression, and does not inhabit the role. John Woodson does not develop well either his role as Mr. Darling or of the evil Hook. As Alex stated, “The pirate leader just wasn’t scary enough.”

Alex’s other comments: “The first act was a 10 out of 10, the second a 7 1/2.” His reasoning? “The first act was fun and there were lots of clever things happening, such as the kid crawling out of the bucket. However, the second act was slower and didn’t hold my attention as well.” He also liked the flying effects and some of the music.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Overall, Porthouse’s ‘PETER PAN’ is an excellent evening of theatre. It adds new dimensions to the story, well beyond those of the Walt Disney animation or the stage production. It may be a little long for younger children, but it is a fine way for older children and their parents to see a play that they can view and discuss and delight in.