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Open: 04/09/10- Close: 05/09/10 Peter Pan
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin

Sara Brown ©2014  Peter Pan- Zach Zamsky,Synge Maher - Capt. Hook

The New Acting Company advertizes their wonderful production of J.M.Barrie’s classic play “Peter Pan” as Non-Traditional, Re-Invented, and Re-Imagined. In fact, with the exception of select examples of gender reversed casting I find it a breath of fresh air that this production is in fact none of those things, but instead gets directly to the heart of what Mr. Barrie originally imagined. The fact that such a production must be labeled a re-imagining is a statement to how far most productions have strayed away from the soul of this classic tale.

Using the John Caird and Trevor Nunn adaptation of Barrie’s classic play, Stephen Michael Rondel (producer/director/and voice of Tinkerbell) chooses to focus not so much on the storybook quality of “Peter Pan” (although thanks to the brilliant sets and costumes by Katya Khellblau, and Mark Salinas respectively, the production seems to bring the most beautiful storybook illustrations to life right before our eyes, the flying scene for example, which used no wires, was inspired), but instead on the nature of adult hood. The two most obviously “out of the box” directorial decisions for this production were to reverse the rolls of Mr. and Mrs. Darling (included in the switch is the casting of Synge Maher (Mrs. Darling) as Captain Hook – a doubling usually given to Mr. Darling) and to cast the children, especially Peter age appropriate. The casting of a woman as the more independent, uptight, “mean” parent, and likewise the murderous Pirate Captain of Neverland meant that this “Peter Pan” was not about sweet perfect women battling against mean, evil adult men, but simply about children and adults coming to grips with one another. In the original “Peter Pan” there is no “good” father figure. In this production there are both good and bad mothers and fathers (Mrs. Darling comes across as the kind of spoiled, nice, but slightly devious parent you might find on “Gossip Girl”, whereas Wendy, and even the Narrator are beautiful examples of kind, warm mothering. Mr. Darling is a thoughtful, and gentle, if not quite all there father, where as Hook’s male lackeys are cruel and vicious.) In the second act, when Peter confesses to Wendy that he believes Mothers are cruel because his own shut the window so that he could never again get in, never have I felt a chill run up my back at Wendy’s response: “Oh Peter! Are Mothers REALLY like that?” In this world, they might be. And indeed, EVERYONE in the story, adults and children alike are searching for what Mr. Rondel in his director’s notes terms “radiant parenting.” In our society of broken homes, and horror stories on the news of child abandonment and abuse, it is a sentiment that must ring close to home with almost any audience goer.

It is a rare and special treat to see “Peter Pan” performed with actual children. J.M Barrie captured in his book the beauty of real interaction between children, both boys and girls who have not yet gotten bored with make-believe, and are just starting to be on the fence regarding “kooties” of the opposite gender. These are children being children, and the action and dialogue ring painfully and joyfully true in a way I have rarely seen. This is aided by the fact that the actors, both adult and child are extraordinary. The New Acting Company is the professional acting company of the Children’s Aid Society, and these shows are put together in order for the children in the program to have the opportunity to act in a professional production.  Any adult actors are brought in on an as needed basis. I don’t know what they’re doing in their children’s program, but I wish they would teach it to the professional acting schools and companies around NYC. The Children’s Aid Society theater company seems to have done what few companies, let alone children’s companies have been able to do: create a familial community of actors who are joyously having fun onstage. Every actor, down to the youngest was reveling in making bold choices. Obviously they have gotten some wonderful training, and encouragement. They are out onstage thinking of themselves as no less than professional off-Broadway actors, and that is exactly what they are. Something extraordinary is happening there.

Sara Brown ©2014  Peter Pan- Zach Zamsky,Synge Maher - Capt. Hook

Each member of the cast was a stand out. There were no weak links. This was a true ensemble, and that’s what made it so exciting to watch. Zach Zamsky was youth, joy and freedom as Peter Pan, and was the epitome of every snips snails and puppy dog tails little boy you’ve ever known. Charlotte Williams hit all the right notes as Wendy. Far from the syrupy sweet interpretation we often expect, Ms. Williams, reminiscent of a young, brunette Dakota Fanning, exuded all the logic, high status, and motherly kindness that epitomized Barrie’s original character. Phoebe VanDusen managed a letter perfect John, who was at once the little boy anxious to grow up, and yet still a little boy. Erica Cenci was hysterical and heartbreaking as lost boy Tootles, and reminded one why this character has become so iconic. Alex Demers, one of the only adults in the show stole every scene he was in as Smee, and brought a stop the show laugh to almost every line. His epically earnest reading of the line “Have we been Captained all this time by a CODFISH?!” was one of my favorite moments in the show.

Synge Maher did a lovely job in a tricky cross-gender role. Her interpretation of Mrs. Darling was intelligent and clever, and oh so heartbreaking at the end when Mrs. Darling thinks she has lost her children. As Hook, she managed the delicate balance so well exemplified in Cyril Richard’s classic performance of being both funny, and menacing. The truth is that as fun as “Peter Pan” is, the original is much darker than people remember, and Ms. Maher had the difficult task of being both the wicked villain who can utter with a joyful grin “a holocaust of children”, and also make you laugh at her fear of the lights going out.

The only slight misses with the production were the slightly odd choice of keeping Tinkerbell a female (though still just a ball of light), but with a deep male voice. Tinkerbell was the only character who was misused, making the heartbreaking scene where she drinks Peter’s medicine and the audience must save her by clapping their hands almost unemotional. There were a few technical problems the night I saw the show, but nothing to hinder the enjoyment of the evening

This is a truly remarkable production of one of literature’s classic works. I would eagerly recommend it above the more big budget “spectacle” productions more well known, for this “Peter Pan” gets right to the heart of a brilliant story, by children, about children, for children and adults alike. It will take you back to the joy you felt playing pretend in the backyard, and break your heart at the memory of growing pains we never quite leave behind once we are adults. The production, including the venue (Barrie’s original production was dedicated to the local orphanage in London, and was done completely to benefit the children) was completely reminiscent of the scene of “Peter Pan’s” opening night in the film “Finding Neverland.” This is the Peter Pan I would want to share with my children.

 

 


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Venue:
Philip Coltoff Center, Main Stage : 219 Sullivan St.