Growing Up Is Hard to Do
Once upon a a time in Scotland, author/playwright J.M. Barrie had an inspiration: a short story about a boy who refused to grow up and who could fly. It snowballed into a classic–Peter Pan—then into a hit play, then into a full-length novel. While Barrie’s story remained popular in his native country, it was a natural for eternal acclaim in America; nowhere else do men routinely remain boys (think backwards baseball caps; new toy obsessions; tee shirts with slogans) for quite so long. And so Barrie’s tale soon crossed the pond, penetrated our national consciousness and remained there, beckoning. It drew sculptors, artists, and composers (Jules Styne and Leonard Bernstein), and other authors big and small, morphing, along the way, into a goldmine.
Disney’s antennae were up decades ago, when they turned it into a 1953 animated feature and a sequel (Return to Neverland) in 2003. But they kept their fingers in several Peter pies by publishing a series of prequel novels, Peter and the Starcatchers, by the team of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; these, too, have remained best-sellers since the first was published in 2004. And there’s more! Recently, Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, the Addams Family) adapted it into a riotous romp with music (Peter and Wendy), along the lines of a classic British pantomime. Its director: Roger Rees, once the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby and, not coincidentally, one of the voiceover stars of Disney’s 2003 Return to Neverland. The hoopla for its limited run at the New York Theatre Workshop did not escape Disney’s eye: there are rumors of another film in the works, possibly in 3-D.
Meantime, the New Victory Theater presented Mabou Mines’ production of Peter and Wendy, an all-white dreamlike interpretation of elements of Barry’s original Edwardian story, and much closer to it in spirit and approach. Anchored by narrator Karin Kandel, Peter and the lost boys are wooden puppets manipulated by a crew who manage to both shield and animate their charges at the same time. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the play is Peter’s character – at times playful and vulnerable, at times malicious. Changeable, as children are, especially those who have a hard time growing up. As the program tells us, “…..the play retains [Barrie’s] original impulse to mourn the impossibility of return, or simply enjoys, fleetingly, the resonance between past and present.” There is real magic in the way Peter and Wendy brings it to life.
So, this season we were lucky to have two very different versions of a classic simultaneously. For myself, I really love puppets (more about that soon), and find a good story and imaginative production more compelling than 3-D. But then, I’ve never worked in a goldmine. And I’ve learned that the New Victory plans to present the New York premiere of The Little Prince this fall. With puppets!