The Cape Cod Chronicle, Feb. 18, 2010
by Jennifer Sexton
Photos courtesy of Heather Lannen
"Who am I? I am youth! I am joy! I am freedom!"
So says Peter Pan to Captain Hook as he matches the pirate's cutlass strike for strike with his boy's sword fashioned from sticks. Such is the magic of Peter Pan, magic that overflows in HJT's production of "Peter Pan and Wendy," directed by Maura Hanlon.
First of all, banish from your mind all images of green leotard- clad actresses with pixie haircuts soaring on wires above the stage. HJT's production bypasses the popular culture image of the eternal-boy-played-by-a-woman in favor of a decidedly masculine, athletic Peter Pan dressed in the colors of flames.
Troy Armand Barboza as Peter Pan doesn't need wires to fly. Without benefit of a concealed harness, he spends roughly as much time leaping, climbing, swooping, upsidedown and otherwise airborne as he does on the stage. He is as irrepressible as we expect Peter to be, and he also surprises by perfectly capturing the lighthearted crulety of childhood fantasy play, delivering lines about killing pirates with a delighted grin. These are the parts of J.M. Barrie's book that surprise us when we reread it to our own children, and they make the story.
As Tinker Bell, Caroline Clancy manages to pull off some real-life magic. Emily Blodgett, the actress cast as Tink, suffered a serious ankle injury requiring surgery shortly before the show opened. Clancy, cast as Tink's understudy, rehearsed the role for the first time the day before opening night. Despite the short notice, she does a wonderful job as the devilish imp whose love for Peter moves her to swallow poison for him one minute, ands arrange an unpleasant demise for Wendy the next. So expressive are Clancy's enormous eyes, her gesture language and her single arching eyebrow that it is easy to forget that Tink's is a non-speaking role.
Rose Cronin-Jackman is perfectly cast as the ever-maternal little girl Wendy, who begins her relationship with Peter Pan by stitching his shadow back to his heels in the Darling family's nursery. She does a fantastic job, exhibiting just the right mix of childhood courage and grown-up responsibility, balancing on the border between girl and woman even as she and her brothers are tempted to the Neverland with tales of mermaids and pirates. Matthew Gubbins and Michael Couto are very good as her younger brothers, John and Michael, who would rather die "like Englishmen" than join Hook's crew of pirates, no matter how cool their pirate names might have been.
Jade Schuyler is the loving Mrs. Darling, whose grief for her lost children is heartbreaking as she insists that the third story window be left open in case they return. She doubles as Starkey, the pirate who would sooner jump ship than face Peter Pan, the fearsome pirate-killing "doodle-doo." Art Devine is hysterical as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, playing the father as a fun-loving goofball who waits out his children's return by sleeping in the doghouse and Hook as a flamboyant, sashaying bully who collapses into shivers at the mention of the dreaded crocodile who took his right hand. Julie Allen Hamilton is a hoot as Nana the canine nanny, expressing her concern for the children with doggy sounds but speaking her thoughts aloud when no humans are nearby to hear them. Hamilton is also hilarious as pirate Mr. Smee, Hook's right-hand, er, right-hook man.
As the Lost Boys, Charlie Powicki, Graham Smith, Nick Stewart, Jack McMurrer, Ian Kerig Hamilton and Lian Phelan are an adorable, shaggy-haired bunch who mix innocence and Neverland forgetfulness with bravery, loyalty and desperate yearning for a mother. McMurrer is funny when he tried to shake off the cobwebs of the Neverland and remember things from his former life, without quite getting it right. "I remember spinsters. My aunt used to shake them out of her boots." Cara Gerardi mimics Peter's wild movements as his shadow--- no easy task--- and is suitably solemn as the captured Princess Tiger Lily. The shadow ensemble, made up of Elizabeth Bent, Miriah Burns, Paddo Devine, Seamus Devine, Nick Matsik, Meredith Sullivan and last minute addition Karen Stewart, who took the place of pinch-hitting Tinker Bell Clancy, create marvelous effects onstage with their dark-clad presence.
A great contribution to the magic and movement of this production is the brilliant set, created by James P. Byrne, which must be seen in action to be believed. Not only do the Darling children's beds transform effortlessly into Hook's ship the Jolly Roger, but the entire structure of the multi-level set pivots and spins on a central axis, creating flight sequences that soar and unforgettable battle scenes with the characters seeming to move freely in three dimensions above the stage.
The experience of listening to the novel read aloud runs through the entire production, carried along in between the action sequences by a quintet of motherly narrators, Tesia Brown, Pat Ellis, Kristin Stewart, Jessalyn Peters and Elizabeth Liuzzi, who take turns doing the storytelling. Behind the scenes, they transform into Captain Hook's colorful crew of hilarious pirates, Jukes, Cecco, Mullins, Noodler and Cookson. Hanlon does a marvelous job, working with the actors to create pirates who are at least as funny as they are scary, with extra "arrh." J Hagenbuckle's sound deisgn completes the atmosphere of the Neverland, giving weightless life to the flying scenes and reminding us of Tinker Bell's occupation as a fairy who mends pots and pans with the gentle sound of tinkling metal. Robin McLaughlin's costumes are as gorgeous as always, from the ragtag Lost Boys to the wildly colorful pirates, the fiery Peter Pan and the demure Wendy in white and summery green.
"Peter Pan and Wendy" is a trip to the Neverland full of swashbuckling adventure, swordfights, flying, and one more chance for grownups and kids alike to clap together if you believe in fairies. My six-year-old theater companion hasn't stopped begging me, "When can we go again?" Don't miss it.