Our local community theater put up Peter Pan and I took the kids. I’ve seen some things at Valley Players in the past that were outstanding (Outside Mullingar is a favorite). A few kids my kids knew were in the show as well.
I should preface this by saying that I cannot even begin to think about Peter Pan without thinking of the following:
- The “Fiasco” episode of This American Life (seriously, if you haven’t listened to the first act of this, you are missing out. Be warned that it may make you laugh until you cry and/or can’t breathe).
- The Mary Martin version, which we had on VHS (in a colorized edition) when I was a kid, and which I adored.
- A monologue I used to audition with in my younger and more vulnerable years, from a Chris Durang play called ‘denity Crisis, wherein the speaker tells about a childhood trauma. She went to see a production of Peter Pan and when the children were clapping to revive Tinkerbell, Peter turned to the audience and said, “That wasn’t good enough! You didn’t clap hard enough! Tinkerbell’s dead!” Some tiny, awful part of me wants to see that actually happen.
- The million problematic things in this text–how will the production handle them?
So, I go into this play with a lot more expectations and stakes than some shows.
This production was cut to about 70 minutes, and I felt that some of the cuts didn’t serve the story–there were a number of times when my kids didn’t know what was going on and I had to fill them in because of what I knew from having seen it in the past.
The text has so many problems. Due to constraints of budget, facilities, and time, some of them weren’t handled especially artfully. For example, the space doesn’t allow for flying, so they just…strolled.
Other aspects were handled in a smart and fascinating way. I particularly liked Peter’s “shadow.” They had an actor all in black who played the shadow, not just in the beginning, but throughout the performance. I hadn’t ever seen it done like this before, and it was very effective and fun to watch.
Some of the troubling bits were ellided or neutralized. The “Indians” were renamed “warriors” and looked savage, but not in a specific indigenous kind of way. The “lost boys” included some female actors, which I thought was lovely. Most of Tinkerbell’s specific jealousy about Wendy was cut as well. But there’s no getting around the bizarre misogyny of the story.
That said, many of the performances were utterly delightful. The young woman who played Peter was brilliant. Wendy was a student I taught a few years back, and I enjoyed seeing her onstage again. The pirates were all hilarious, and wonderfully committed. Their energy was so delightful that I rolled right along with it. My children had a great time, as well. It was a bit of candy after making them go to Ragtime with me a few weeks earlier…