Peter Pan | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Peter Pan, Shattered Globe Theatre.

Premiered in 1904 as a Christmas "panto," in which the principal boy's role is played by a woman, James M. Barrie's fairy tale about a boy who wouldn't grow up was revised in 1982 for the Royal Shakespeare Company by directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird and Barrie biographer Andrew Birkin. Their version has Peter played by a young man and included narration drawn from Barrie's stage directions and from his 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. Some of this text--including an epilogue in which Peter returns to claim Wendy and is devastated to find her grown up--offers insight into the play's autobiographical subtext: Wounded by his mother's attachment to the memory of his older brother, who was killed at age 13, Barrie thought of himself as a boy who couldn't grow up. He reveled in the company of children--especially Peter Llewelyn Davies and his brothers, the inspiration for Peter and the Lost Boys--while anguishing over his fixation on women as mother figures.

Louis Contey's dark, claustrophobic Shattered Globe staging fails to live up to the material: it's crippled by Brian Pudil's thuggish, uncharasmatic Peter, Doug McDade's blustering Hook, and Rich Baker's unfocused narrator. Though occasionally entertaining in its scenes of raucaus make-believe, it lacks real joy, suspense, mystery, and magic. Technical limitations--no light for Tinkerbell, no flying apparatus--force the company to rely on increasingly tedious mime, while the actors' coarse attempts at English accents obscure Barrie's mythic-heroic poetry.

Center Theater's production a couple of years ago burst with animal energy, proving that a low-tech Peter Pan could be both ethereal and earthy. But this dreary disappointment makes one long for Mary Martin, or at least Robin Williams.

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