You know the story. Magical boy whisks three Darling children to an equally magical island for adventures. Yet, like all good fairytales, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan holds a dark underbelly beneath the wonder. At its core, Peter Pan is something of a malevolent tale.
The precocious boy who refuses to grow up might seem charming, but he has much in common with another timeless character who was literarily born only five years before Pan, Count Dracula. Let’s compare: immortal, flies, refuses to conform to the Victorian/Edwardian culture that spawned him, beguiles men into doing his bidding, and sucks the life force out of young women. Albeit, in Peter’s case he mostly just drains a girl from her nurturing instincts, not her neck.
The latest Pan re-imagining to hit Houston, Peter Pan 360 manages to mine that twisty core while also keeping the childlike facade. Set up in the traveling Threesixty Theatre, the production has stripped musical numbers from the show, like the beloved tunes of 1954 Broadway version, though it contains its own, often poignant score.
It also adds a very high tech spin to the story, with several flying sequences and aerial ballets reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil show. These real flights of fancy are augmented by animated projections that surround the actors and audience equally throughout the show. Peter Pan 360 is a sense delight for all ages, but I’d like to focus on two groups who might appreciate this production the most: kids and adults looking for some hidden and sometimes hilarious psychological darkness in their fairytales.
What Peter Pan holds for kids.
From birds, a beautiful sheep dog and roving crocodile that needs two puppeteers inside to operate, the creatures of the show are a joy to behold.
Everyone Flies, Spins and Occasionally Tumbles
Half the cast seems to take to the air (40 feet up) at one time or another and the projections — some soaring, others a bit cheesy, in a good way — give wind to the whole flight enterprise. The Lost Boys do some impressive pole dancing and two mermaids (Elisa Penello and Megan Godin) simulate aquatic deep dives with a beautiful, but too-short, aerial silk dance.
Stephen Carlile’s Captain Hook is loud, silly but seldom very scary. When he bloodlessly kills an insubordinate crew member early on in the show, the dead pirate continues to play the guitar as he’s dragged off stage, much to the giggling delight of several of the kids in my section. Late in the show when Hook quizzes a young boy in the audience if he’s afraid of the dreaded pirate, the answer was a emphatic “No.”
Director Thom Southerland, along with his co-adaptor Tanya Ronder, give Wendy, Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily individual chances to save Peter’s worthless ass and Wendy (Sarah Charles) even wields a sword and tends to do a better job defending herself against the pirate horde than most of the Lost Boys.
A Peter Pan for the most cynical adult.
Clad in a tank top, dirty pink tutu and red boots, Jessie Sherman plays Tink as a diva bitch on wings. Besides her several attempts to murder Wendy, which I wholeheartedly respect, her greatest performance comes when she smells Peter’s “medicine” has been poisoned. Instead of sensibly just pouring the concoction on the floor, she proceeds to drink it. Her overwrought “death” then forces Peter and the entire audience to sing her fairy praises to revive her. If she’d just get over her Peter obsession, she could easily conquer Neverland and rule as its psychotic, pink fairy queen.
Peter, played by Dan Rosales can in no way be mistaken for a boy and constantly calls Wendy Darling “Mother.” Meanwhile, Stephen Carlile portrays both Mr. Darling — a bombastic father compensating for his insecurities — and Captain Hook who tries to kill the Darling boys but contemplates letting the adolescent Wendy live to become the pirate crew’s mommy. I’d say about 20 years of intense therapy might just begin to detangle all the daddy and mommy issues embedded in this production.
The lighting, music, and choreography of the climatic fight scene aboard the Jolly Roger feels a bit like a gay pirate and steampunk night at the third hottest dance club in any-town USA, circa 1999. I mean this as the highest compliment.
Peter Pan’s Raging Peter Pan Complex
You know that guy your BFF refused to break up with for what seemed like forever, that guy who’s band/art/app/startup was going to take off any day now (He’s talking with a producer/investor, he swears) and until then he has to always work on his music/welding/coding/investors' perspective and couldn’t possibly get a job or even vacuum? And you know how you had to spend many a lunch or coffee consoling your BFF even as she refused to kick him out or at the very least make him do his own laundry. You only put up with her tears and complaints because she had once done the same commiserating with you over your own boyfriend and sadly would probably again in the future. I believe this feeling lies as the thematic emotion center of every scene with Peter and Wendy, Tink or Tiger Lily.
Oh, my God Peter, you can’t take 20 minutes out of your immorality to learn how to sew your own frickin shadow back on? At least Dracula never demanded any woman or man darn his socks before giving them a good suck.
Peter Pan runs through October 4 at the Threesixty Theatre.