KPBS AIRDATE: October 04, 2002
Every once in awhile, something comes along onstage that stops your breath and steals your heart, that reminds you why you go to the theater 120 times a year and makes you grateful for the genius of creation and the brilliance of sheer theatricality. The Mabou Mines production of “Peter and Wendy,” now at La Jolla Playhouse, is so thrillingly magical, it sucks you into its minimalist reality and makes you complicit in its creation. On an all-white set, strewn with all-white books, a bevy of white-clad, veiled artists glide on and off like choreographed ghosts, using scraps and dolls and puppets to enact the story of Peter Pan. This version is so palpably bittersweet it grants you the elation of a child while, aching at the same time, you know how far you are from being one. You get the sense of having flown, but are all too well aware that you’ll never fly again.
This marvelous invention, which won an Obie Award in 1997, is a faithful and incredibly imaginative adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s 1911 children’s book, “Peter and Wendy.” Barrie’s earlier play, “Peter Pan,” was the source of the memorable musical and other familiar retellings. But both Barrie creations were far darker than the Pollyanna renditions we’re accustomed to. The Mabou Mines piece, a collaborative work from one of the country’s most acclaimed experimental theater troupes, was five years in the making, and it restores all the darkness of the original.
This Peter isn’t just a nimble sprite; he’s a narcissist with a nasty streak, who can be as adorable, needy, self-aggrandizing and manipulative as a pesky younger brother. Like many of the other characters, Peter is a malleable, bunraku puppet, marvelously moved by multiple puppetmasters. Dolls, papers, books and colorful cloths spring magically to life in the pop-up Darling house and the enchanted Neverland. All the voices of all the characters are magnificently created by Karen Kandel, who was an original collaborator, along with writer Liza Lorwin, director Lee Breuer and designer Julie Archer. Sheer genius. Kandel won a well-deserved Obie for her spectacular performance, which is humorous, heart-wrenching and gorgeously nuanced. We’re transfixed and transported by the wonderful Scottish music, the beautiful vocals, the fabulously evocative sound and lighting. You could really love this ragtag Nana and tango with the sexily slithering croc. Children of 8 or 10 will be enthralled, but adults will be touched to the core. Hold onto your heart; along with the exhilaration of taking this breathless journey of imagination, there’s the grownup pain of loss — of youth, innocence, and the belief in miracles.
>©2002 Patté Productions Inc.