No Rules Theatre Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated MothersBy Xandra Weaver • Feb 16th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
No Rules Theatre
H Street Playhouse, Washington DC
Through March 3rd
2:30 with one intermission
Reviewed February 13th, 2012
In a little black box theater just on the other side of Chinatown, a show has just begun a thrilling and daring journey into a Neverland. Though the dark staging and serious depiction of real world troubles of this production would make one feel like it is a Neverland not seen before, it is in fact a place on the edges of your mind, you have seen it. There are Pirates and Indians and Lost Boys, but all are at once different and very much more real. It’s a show that quite simply achieves the impossible: presenting a play that fully shows actors performing in a small stage for an audience, while transporting that audience to fully realize the imagination and daring of children who leave their lives in England to escape to a fantasy.
The story has been treated with a heavy-handed dose of tragedy. Michael Darling, the youngest of the children, dies in the prologue and is literally buried in earth beneath the stage. In the program, our director and adapter Michael Lluberes tells us that this was inspired by the tragedy of the original playwright, J.M. Barrie, whose life would always be affected by the death of his brother, taken at a young age. As the rest of the tale unfolds, our mother figure, Mrs Darling (played by Lisa Hodsoll), has been overtaken with the grief Mr. Barrie knew from his own mother’s face. Mrs. Darling is haunted by a face of a boy at the window and throughout her dreams, just as the original script says. In fact, many of the words are taken directly from the original play, but the twist grants them a new, more haunting light.
The children who are left, Wendy (played by Megan Graves) and John (played by Joshua Rosenblum) are put to bed by their sad-faced mother, and awaken to find a boy in their room. Peter comes, claiming to be the embodiment of youth and agelessness, bringing with him a fairy, and whisks them away to Neverland. There the Lost Boys and Pirates and Indians live, all under fear of the dreadful Captain Hook, played by the same Lisa Hodsoll who was recently the tearful Mrs. Darling. Hook rails and rates over his hatred of children, and though Hodsoll brings a real swaggering ferocity to the role, the lines cannot help but be blurred between grieving mother and villain who wishes death on all children because their faces mock him.
Two things are always seen at the same time in this show, as the Lost Boys hear Hook coming and transform into the pirates onstage to wait on him. The room that was the house in London transforms, not in a blackout, not with new set pieces brought in, but as the characters move over it. Like a magic spell that creeps slowly behind the actors, grass appears as the Lost Boys crawl around, looking for Peter, bed frames become boats, and all this happens as our actors play make-believe, seeing things in front of them so hard that the audience is drawn into the myth.
That is the character of the whole show, the duality. Mrs. Darling wears the same strong makeup as Hook, but what the woman wears as dark red tears rimming her eyes, Hook wears as bloodshot eyes and sunken sockets. The lights of the lamps in the Darling house become lanterns in the house of the Lost Boys. So as the story progresses, nothing is added or removed, only transformed into something new. The lights skillfully accentuate the change from fantasy to real, designed to be cold and stark in London, but yellow tinged, exotic and dangerous in Neverland. Even a scene on a seashore is realized by lights focused above the waterline and smoke effects to fill the dark edges where the children dip their feet.
The acting is superb. The actors play both grownups and children with dedication and effort in the physicality. Wendy Darling is wholly lovable, a sweet child with a positive outlook on life who will not take no for an answer. The titular Peter is both a mystery and a terror, wild with childlike surprise, and also a strong leader and ruler of Neverland. John Evans Reese is a powerhouse of an actor with a bodily presence that is both boyish and imposing. This is a Peter with a sharp sword and a rakish smile made lopsided by a black eye from fighting, and yet so charismatic that he draws the story to himself, crowing with pride as he does.
The supporting cast was masterfully brought to life by artists that seemed as much enchanted by the fantasy and pretend as their characters are. An excellent dialect coach and well tuned ears and creativity let each of the Lost Boy/Pirates/Indians character switches come across seamlessly. For instance, Maya Jackson was a very Cockney Boy, a Jamaican pirate and a shrill, fierce Tiger Lily, all portrayed through polished accents and vocal work.
Setting the entire play in the Darling house, with no changes between Acts was a risky choice, but it paid off. Lines about make-believe and dreams became wholly different and were given new life by virtue of the divergence of what was being enacted versus what was seen. The Darling bedroom became a playground, which was completely different from reality just by virtue of believing it to be so, just as any child knows how to do. Furthermore, the reality of the set was broken around the edges by the fantasy that crept in via small doors and windows in the backdrop, and trap doors and smoke filters in the floor. When people and mist filtered in through these breaks, it felt like the fantasy was becoming more than real, almost realer than life.
The production is an original view on a long cherished story, and it is easy to tell that a lot of love went into the crafting of the characters, even as the grueling story takes its effect on their mentalities. Peter is broken by his loss of family, being always young and never knowing the joys of love. Wendy is hurt by Peter’s carelessness, Hook is devastated by the youth he can never have, and the Lost Boys are confused and crippled by their lack of knowledge of reality. The imperfect nature of these characters makes them all the more real, makes them whole, and shows the audience the realities of childhood in all their sweetness and pain.
“But the years came and went without bringing the careless boy; and when they met again Wendy was a married woman, and Peter was no more to her than a little dust in the box in which she left her toys.” – Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
When J.M. Barrie was six years old, his thirteen-year-old brother David died in an ice-skating accident. His mother was devastated by David’s death and found solace in the idea that by dying, her son would remain a little boy forever. From the depths of J.M. Barrie’s own longing, he crafted a potent myth about childhood, loss and what it means to grow up.
Peter Pan is a bloody battle and a delicate dance between children and adults. Barrie was exploiting the terrain of a child’s psychology and imagination in this work. The story is a beautiful allegory about the pain and inevitability of growing up. Using one of Barrie’s own original titles “The Boy Who Hated Mothers,” his initial ideas for the play and his novelization of the story “Peter and Wendy,” we hope to unlock the darker mysteries buried deep inside his masterpiece.
“The horror of my boyhood was that I knew a time would come when I also must give up the games…this agony still returns to me in dreams… I felt that I must continue playing in secret.” – J.M. Barrie
“There are two worlds: the world of everyday and the world of the imagination. When children play, they pass quite naturally through the two worlds all the time, so that at one moment a child may hold a stick and pretend it’s a sword. At one moment you can tell him to drop that stick and he responds to that. At that same time you can tell him to drop that sword and he responds to that. The two worlds coexist…. The theatre should be a meeting place between these two worlds.” – Peter Brook
This new version of Peter Pan is a dangerous game of make-believe, a dark exploration of the psyche of a child – both an adolescent dream and nightmare. Barrie created a theatrical playground of childhood memories, fears and imagination for the adult and child within each of us to play together.
“Cast your mind back into its earliest years, and through them you will see flitting dimly the elusive form of a child. He is yourself, as soon as you can catch him. But move a step nearer, and he is not there. Among the mists of infancy he plays hide and seek with you until one day he trips and falls into the daylight. Now you seize him; and with that touch you two are one.” J.M. Barrie
Welcome to Neverland.
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
- Tootles/Smee: Adam Downs
- Wendy: Megan Graves
- Mrs Darling/Captain Hook: Lisa Hodsoll
- Nibs/Bill Jukes/Tiger Lily: Maya Jackson
- Slightly/Starkey: Nathaniel Mendez
- Peter Pan: John Evans Reese
- John Darling: Joshua Rosenblum
- Adapter/Director: Michael Lluberes
- Assistant Director: Tyler Budde
- Technical Director: Steve Cosby
- Music Director: Joshua Morgan
- Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca Griffith
- Stage Manager: Theresa Hindersinn
- Sound Design and Original Music: Elisheba Ittoop
- Fight Choreography: Casey Kaleba
- Costume Design: Brandon R. McWilliams
- Dialect Coach: Jennifer Mendenhall
- Scenic Design: Daniel Pinha
- Properties Designer: Eric Reynolds
- Wardrobe Head: Jesse R. Shipley
- Assistant Lighting Designer: Ken Wills
- Lighting Design: Carrie Wood
- Production Manager: Cory Ryan Frank
Disclaimer: No Rules Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7664.
Xandra Weaver has a great love of the process of theater and the creation of art that has led her into working both behind the scenes and onstage. Her career includes working for many years providing sound and lights for both professional and amateur shows as well as makeup work for a feature film. At college, she specialized in makeup to earn her theater degree, and discovered a love for directing and playwrighting. She's also been a nominee for the DC area theater WATCH awards for her work with the company of The Producers with The Arlington Players.