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Peter Pan – Theatre Review

Peter Pan threesixty

threesixty 2009 Production: U.S. National Tour
Seen in Atlanta, Georgia, March 26, 2011

Written by Tanya Ronder, an adaptation of the play by J.M. Barrie
Directed by Ben Harrison
Starring Ciaran Joyce, Darrell Brockis, Samantha Hopkins, Emily Yetter, Shannon Warrick

The story about the boy who refused to grow up sticks with us because nobody really wants to grow up. Indeed, when you see what’s become of the world at the end of the show when growing up has happened, you start to think that Peter had the right idea. But that’s just it: you get the trade-off between staying young and never figuring out what a thimble actually is or, well, getting old and dying. Is there a thimble worth dying for? Good question.

There is a huge obstacle to doing this show, in my opinion. It’s not the fact that it’s been done six ways from Sunday, although it has–instead it’s the fact that it’s been done by Disney and that’s the way everyone remembers it. So the dark side of things, especially in the epilogue section and the childish cruelty of some of the characters, is a surprise to a lot of audiences, I’m sure. So you’ve got people wandering in and wondering what the hell they’ve signed up for. But anybody who wants to try anything different should be commended, even though they risk confusing audiences by asking them to whisper to save Tinker Bell–after the audience has already started clapping to save her.

[ad#longpost]The good news is the staging of this version is pretty awesome. They bring their own tent/stage setup, a la Cirque, so they can do aerial stunts for the flying and underwater sequences, both of which are quite effective. This is enhanced by the use of a 360-degree projection system that provides the backdrop for wherever they’re supposed to be: whether London or flying or what have you. For the most part, this works extraordinarily well apart from the deck of the pirate ship (I felt like I was back in Second Life) and the underwater sequence (technically not the fault of the screen: when you have dialogue about the mermaids trying to drown you after the fact, it works a lot better when we can tell that’s what they were trying to do). Hidden trapdoors are also made great use of as well as set pieces attached to the stage that flip over, revealing either blank stage or something else beneath. This can also be used to deliver props to the stage: a bed flips over at one point with a kite already laid out on the mattress. Nifty.

Puppets are used as well, with Nana being cute and a bird in the Lost Boys’ lair being…well, confusing and pointless. All is forgiven in this regard when Tick Tock arrives: whatever you’re expecting, this isn’t it. And no one in their right mind would care because it’s fantastic.

The cast is pretty much excellent across the board. They’re adults playing at being children, which is why I thought this was a children’s theater piece. More on this in a moment. Ciaran Joyce’s Peter is…well, Peter. He delivers boyish exuberance and thoughtlessness in equal measure. Samantha Hopkins is great at bringing Wendy to life: she’s a young lady, which means by default she’s more mature than just about everyone else in Never Land. Her frustration with this fact is perfect. Having more fun than should be legal is Emily Yetter as Tinker Bell. This version is the full-on spiteful sprite, flipping around and blowing raspberries and perhaps a bit more feral than some of the parents were expecting. I don’t mean she was frothing at the mouth–I mean she was like a spoiled brat punk child with Xmas lights in her hair. Tip if you get bored at any point in the show: if she’s on stage, just watch her. No matter what’s going on, if she’s on, then she’s On. Brockis makes for a decent Hook, but at times I couldn’t figure out what his accent was trying to be or if he was changing it up in an effort to be amusing or…what.

And that brings me to the number one problem: the sound. If one person is on stage, talking and facing away from you (the stage is almost completely in the round)…then good luck. Even Brockis, who can obviously project, I had trouble hearing. Even when Joyce and Hopkins, who clearly could project, were talking–they were fine on their own. But once more than one voice kicks in, the dialogue gets completely lost. I have no idea what the problem was: they brought their own performance space, it’s not like the sound design crew couldn’t have come up with something. But once things get loud or crazy, it’s a jumble. And then when the tent started getting rained on later in the show…it was a constant struggle. I was with two other people, so this isn’t just “the guy who’s half deaf from being in a rock band.” And we were three rows back.

And thus, the number two problem. The blocking and choreography–on the ground, anyway–was horrendous. Tinker Bell’s “death” scene–which is already comical due to the people clapping before being asked–has her lying on top of the center set piece and I could barely see her. If somebody laid down on this set piece, unless they were dead center on top, they were so obscured we had to guess at who was there. And with the sound going nowhere, it was hard to tell what was happening. I knew the story–both Disney and Barrie–and I could barely follow what was going on with some of the sequences. I felt sorry for the parents who were going to have to try to make sense of this to their kids. Fight scenes looked like they had been thrown together. One slow motion sword fight sequence was laughable…and making it worse was the uncertainty: are they doing that on purpose…is this part supposed to be funny? The second act, which drags, kicks off with the very kid-unfriendly Tiger Lily dance which she uses to “thank” Peter. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a prude. Not in the damn least. But because this went back and forth from suggestive (moves designed to entice a male, if you get my meaning) to comical (moves designed to make you think of a hit song by the Bangles, if you get my meaning), you get more uncertainty: am I supposed to feel embarrassed for the parents that brought their kids, amused at how goofy this is or…what?

A good portion of the show is spent in this way: confused, because I don’t know what’s happening on stage and when I do know, I’m not certain what they’re going for. A character gets his throat slit and then gives a comical dying spasm–that’s one thing. But then another character gets his face slammed violently into a railing and there’s no comical payoff. And yet right after that we see a bunch of characters standing around seeming bored. Dark bits of the story just go dark and seem incompatible with all the other bits. It just seems terribly muddled.

And that’s a shame. Because apart from a few times when people on stage seemed to forget we could still see them even though they weren’t the focus of action, the cast was all pretty fantastic. Even without the tethering and flying bits (and one bit in which two characters hang upside down for long enough that I started to feel concerned for them). They just really needed better sound design, a cleaned up script and some choreography that made sense.