Peter Pan and Captain Hook should see a therapist together. How can they not realize by now that their commonalities are greater than their differences?
Both are childish, boastful, and untrustworthy. They distance those close to them. They substitute violence for introspection and romance. They generate chaos in a narcissistic bid to be the center of attention. Their phallic preoccupations come to a head at the poisoned tip of an iron appendage. And most of all, they fear aging and death.
These man-boys face off once again in Synetic Theater’s fun and thought-provoking The Adventures of Peter Pan. Director Paata Tsikurishvili rather freely adapts J.M. Barrie’s tale, layering Synetic’s vivid physical theater with an uneven script by Ed Monk, Marley Giggey, and Tori Bertocci that’s sprinkled with snarky contemporary references.
That approach is probably necessary to the show’s billing as family theater. But if it’s logical commercially, it’s a shame artistically, because lurking within this version is a far more interesting pure dance-theater piece that would get at the story’s primal underpinnings more powerfully and originally. The highlights, as is, are the sections without speaking, and the standout performances come from two players without lines: Ana Tsikurishvili as Tinkerbell and Zana Gankhuyag as Peter Pan’s shadow.
In Synetic’s rendering, Tink is the mischievous spirit of Peter’s deceased sister. That’s more apropos than it may sound given that Barrie based Peter on Barrie’s older brother David, who died as a teen in a skating accident. Deaths and rebirths–Tink’s and Peter’s–are a vivid motif here. When Tink dies, Tsikurishvili’s grimace and sprawl on the cliffs of Neverland speak more in a moment than the wobbly script does in 110 minutes. And when the Neverbird revives her, the scene, as lit by Mary Keegan, is a chilling but beautiful phantasmagoric painting.
The show employs some requisite flying-harness effects. Far more interesting, though, is the way Ana Tsikurishvili’s Tink constantly bobs and undulates, her face in empathic overdrive, the hypersensitive reactions of a spirit awed and appalled at human passions.
Gankhuyag, too, moves bewitchingly. His is a Jungian Shadow via, perhaps, more than a few modern and hip-hop classes. Alex Mills, as Peter, is at his best when paired with Gankhuyag, their aging-and-death nightmare dance, like the Neverbird’s Tink revival, another hint of the colorful contemporary ballet by choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili that is submerged, perhaps trapped, within this production. Other choreographic highlights are Tink’s spell over the pirates and the Lost Kids’ party medley combining an English reel with Russian folk dance.
Ryan Sellers’s Hook is two parts Johnny Depp and one-part Donald Trump, his self-aggrandizement echoed by Nathan Weinberger as an exceptionally rotund Sean Spicer-ish first mate, Spee. Those riffs are diverting, but in general Hook and his crew do a lot of throat-harshed bellowing. Indeed, one of them Saturday night appeared to be somewhat painfully shouting through a case of laryngitis. And accents, among the pirates and their Lost Boy foes, often aren’t sure which side of the Atlantic they’re on.
The Adventures of Peter Pan
closes November 19, 2017
Details and tickets
Kathy Gordon is a fetching and willful Wendy, stymied by her sojourn with wilding youngsters trapped in their Freudian latency periods. Peter joins Wendy’s brothers, John and Michael, and the other Lost Kids in wanting Wendy to be their mommy. She gives that a try, but she’s looking for at least some flirtation on Peter’s part. In the end, it’s Peter’s Shadow that joins her in a more involving and amorous dance. But then that’s adolescence for you–our shadows always running ahead of us.
Kendra Rai’s costumes are whimsical: The pirates’ getups suggest exotic shores by way of Greenwich Village, and Tink’s lightning-bug dress is a work of art. In Daniel Pinha’s clever scenic design, Neverland rotates to become Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger. Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s electronica nicely propels the Neverland scenes with its drums, glimmers with Tink’s bells, and transcends with the Neverbird’s ascent.
Ultimately, time has its way with all of us. Peter Pan, then, is a tragic hero whose flight is belied by his failure to launch. Meanwhile, the rest of us claim to mature while remaining sadly grounded. Synetic’s Pan captures the magic and the poignancy of both Peter’s limbo and ours.
The Adventures of Peter Pan . Director: Paata Tsikurishvili . Co-Director/Fight Choreographer: Vato Tsikurishvili . Choreographer: Irina Tsikurishvili . Cast: Peter Pan: Alex Mills, Wendy Darling: Kathy Gordon, John Darling: Thomas Beheler, Michael Darling: Scott Whalen, Captain Hook: Ryan Sellers, Smee: Nathan Weinberger, Bill Jukes (pirate): Audrey Tchoukoua, Cookson (pirate): Rob Schumacher, Starkey (pirate): Tori Bertocci, Nibs (lost kid): Nate Shelton, Tootles: (lost kid): John Milward, Slightly (lost kid): Anna Lynch, Shadow: Zana Gankhuyag, Tinkerbell: Ana Tsikurishvili Script Adaptor: Ed Monk . Co-Adaptors: Marley Giggey, Tori Bertocci . Scenic Design: Daniel Pinha . Lighting Design: Mary Keegan . Assistant Lighting Design: Kelly Rudolph . Costume Design: Kendra Rai . Assistant Costume Design: Courtney Wood . Assistant Costume Design: Allison Dyke . Produced by Synetic Theater. Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka.