J.M. Barrie, who penned “Peter Pan” over a century ago, meant his tale to be a simple one of a boy who doesn’t wish to grow up. RelEASE Physical Theatre Company has taken the characters, settings, and bare bones of this story and used it as a springboard to reflect the social upheaval in our present society. It’s magnificent.
Originally devised as a piece to address the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the piece was being worked on when the death of Freddie Gray and the riots in Baltimore made it all the more timely.
But sad to say, this show could have been born ten or twenty years ago – police brutality and the social ills that lead up to it are nothing new.
To get to the performance, one walks a set of narrow, steep white stairs to ascend to the space in the Upstairs at Logan Fringe Arts Space. It’s a superb space to begin with, large and elegant, and perfect use has been made of it, with the audience seated round the circle of the large round stage. No matter where you sit, you can see everything- every gesture by the actors as well as the reactions of every member of the audience. In a word, the audience becomes part of the community.It’s a community in which one cannot escape, for good or bad: if you shed a few tears during the performance, as this reviewer did, it will be seen by everyone else.
by Tori Bertocci, Pasqule Guiducci, Dallas Tolentino and SOTM Ensemble
Director: Tori Bertocci
Choreographer: Tori Bertocci and Pasquale Guiducci Composer: Jessica Lynn Miller Thorne
Details and tickets
Everything works in this physical theatre piece, starting with the beautifully designed stage (no designer is given; Philip Charlwood is credited with ‘set assistance’). What is most impressive is that this is a collaborative effort by the company; the script was developed by the ensemble members.
With no single writer to praise for the seamless script of the show, I found myself frankly amazed at the fine arc of storytelling set before the audience. It’s a spare 60 minutes, and not a minute is wasted. It’s about so many themes: homelessness, police brutality, the inability of this country to stem the onslaught of drugs- yet the multiple messages are never muddled and the characters don’t become mouthpieces.
The good guys aren’t all good and the bad guys aren’t all bad. (Peter) Pan is simultaneously the heroic leader of the group of Lost Ones and a drug pusher; Hook is the cop with authority and a conscience. Speaking of a young Lost One that he shot while on duty, Hook says, “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so was I.” It’s a powerful statement of regret shared by a police officer, trying his utmost to do his duty and at the same time seeing the tragic results.
To try to pigeonhole this piece into either theatre or dance would be a disservice: and calling it physical theatre doesn’t really help to envision what you will see. It’s part mime, part gymnastics, part pure dance and part theatric dialogue: when dance is needed, dance is used, when a speech is need by an actor, that speech comes into play.
It sounds chaotic, but it’s so well done you don’t even notice any transitions. Pan flying with Wendy becomes a physical depiction of being high – Wendy for the first time – it’s both glorious and saddening at the same time. Ryan Tumulty as Hook and Jon Jon Johnson as Smee, his lieutenant, have a wonderful scene in which Smee recounts with undisguised joy his former days as a Lost One. Johnson manages, in a few spare lines, to make us see that even though Smee has escaped terrible times as a junkie, some of those memories are still dear to him.
The show is perfectly cast; it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job in any of the roles. Three performers in particular are standouts: Justin Bell as Pan is a strong and uncertain leader; his athletic dance skills are well suited to the part. As Lost Ones, Pasquale Guiducci as Croc and Sharisse Taylor as Tink have an extraordinary dance/gymnastic scene in which Tink remembers Croc, her dead lover.
I was unfortunate enough to be on the side of the stage to see Tink’s anguished eyes just at the moment the memory turns from joy to sorrow, and audience members on that entire side of the stage had to wipe their eyes. They made us cry, and they’ll make you cry too.
To say that straight onto moUrning is an adaptation of Peter Pan is to give short shrift to it; it’s about more than just not wanting to grow up. It’s about what we, as a society, do to make sure our young people get a chance to grow, period. In large part it’s about discarded people in our society. It isn’t for children – there’s a good deal of profanity, for one thing – but I found myself thinking as a parent that it would be a good show to take an adolescent to. To have a conversation about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray, and police brutality and police frailty, and drugs, and foster care and homelessness, and what we can do to change the way things are. It’s a good conversation to have.
Hurry to this show and bring tissues.