Review: ‘Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers’ at H Street Playhouse
By Peter Marks
Friday, Feb. 17, 2012
It’s a nasty drop from the warm and fuzzy Darling family of the popular Broadway musical version of “Peter Pan” to the suffering brood of dramatist Michael Lluberes’s new adaptation, “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers.” Here, Mrs. Darling (Lisa Hodsoll), her cheeks streaked with eye makeup, is so grief-stricken over the death of her youngest, Michael — yes, he dies in infancy in this retelling — that she climbs onto the windowsill, contemplating ending it all.
No Mr. Darling emerges to comfort her or the surviving children, mournful John (Joshua Rosenblum) and plucky Wendy (Megan Graves). And woe to dog-loving fanciers of J.M. Barrie’s original Victorian-era stories and play: Nana, the family’s canine guardian, is nowhere to be found on the premises of the H Street Playhouse, where No Rules Theatre Company is unveiling this world premiere.
If your temperament is suited to some of the colder considerations of “Peter Pan” — the beloved tale of the boy who defies nature by refusing to grow up — then this inventive though uneven production, written and directed by Lluberes, will strike you as a novel spin on a dramatic chestnut. As embodied by the economical cast of seven, some of the various buccaneers, Indians and Lost Boys are more scrupulously rendered than others; while Hodsoll is affecting as Mrs. Darling, her vocally shrill Captain Hook comes across a few pints short of bloodthirsty.
The play’s staging in the compact Playhouse space doesn’t always allow for the most graceful of scene changes or athletic of sword fights. And during a few talky stretches of the long first act, one wishes that the pirate captain might from time to time level that hook at the script.
Still, Lluberes takes an admirable stab at enveloping the two worlds of the story — the Darling household and Neverland — in a unifying starkness, and as a result, makes it clear how thoroughly this scarred Wendy and Peter (a persuasively childlike John Evans Reese) find consolation in each other’s realities. The nifty concept behind Daniel Pinha’s set reinforces the notion that Neverland is never very far away: With the addition of a few bits of flora, the shabby Darling nursery becomes the messy domain of Peter and the Lost Boys, dressed in evocative rags by costume designer Brandon R. Williams. And doors of various shapes in the flimsy nursery wall open to accommodate exits and entrances, and just as vitally, an impression of the terrifyingly infinite, starry night sky.
Peter Pan’s eternal youthfulness inspires one adaptation after another. In 2007, Arena Stage hosted the experimental Mabou Mines troupe’s “Peter and Wendy” with its elegant rendering of the Lost Boys as puppets, and soon to show up on Broadway is “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which provides a dark origin story for Peter. Is it our fears of growing old or an ongoing bittersweet romance with childhood that stokes our curiosity about him?
As indicated in the title of No Rules’s production, the playwright homes in on a vengeful side to Peter, and the idea that he’s not so much providing a haven for Lost Boys as keeping them out of the clutches of a society that disdains them. Several times, Lluberes has him reiterate his loathing of mothers — chiefly, the one he thinks abandoned him — even as he tries to turn a little girl into one. Graves, by the way, manages in excellent fashion to convey both Wendy’s girlish and maternal fancies.
Reese, in his portrayal of Peter’s willfulness and boyish energy, confers on the character a becoming agelessness. It makes eminent sense, too, on this occasion to have Peter’s most dastardly adversary played by a woman — and by the actress who also portrays Mrs. Darling, at that. The device adds a layer of poignant clarity to Peter’s hollow victory over mothers, as he steals their daughters time and again, but in the end always loses them to time itself.
Though they must deal with some of the production’s technical klutziness, the three actors who play all the assorted pirates and Lost Boys — Adam Downs, Maya Jackson and especially Nathaniel Mendez — acquit themselves with distinction. After a bit of tactical tightening and trimming of “The Boy Who Hated Mothers,” their contributions, along with other facets of the show, might seem all the more impressive.
Adapted and directed by Michael Lluberes. Lighting, Carrie Wood; sound and original music, Elisheba Ittoop; props, Eric Reynolds; fight choreography, Casey Kaleba. About 2½ hours.
Child’s play: Family-friendly theater in unexpected places
By Stephanie Merry
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
One look at the darker title of No Rules Theatre Company’s incarnation of “Peter Pan” and you might wonder whether it’s the same classic children’s tale you grew up with.
“We didn’t make this title up,” Morgan says. “That’s what [‘Peter Pan’ author] J.M. Barrie originally wanted the play to be called, but his producers and publishers were like, ‘That won’t sell.’ ”
This world-premiere rendition, adapted and directed by Michael Lluberes, more accurately follows Barrie’s source material, which was inspired by his childhood. The author’s mother never recovered after her older son and, arguably, favorite child died in a skating accident at age 13. In that vein, “The Boy Who Hated Mothers” begins with the death of Michael Darling — John and Wendy’s brother — and actress Lisa Hodsoll plays the evil Captain Hook and Mrs. Darling.
“We keep equating this to ‘Harry Potter,’ ” Morgan says of the target age group for the show. “There’s nothing overtly sexual about the play; there’s no bad language. But I think the theme of a mother becoming this villainous character — I don’t want a 4-year-old watching that.”
Yet this “Peter Pan” still celebrates the wonder of childlike imagination. The flying scenes, for example, rely on suspending disbelief, not on stage props. “We weren’t interested in rigging anybody up,” Morgan says.
But just as the show revels in the fantastical, it also plays up reality, giving grown-ups food for thought.
“When we did the reading at the Kennedy Center, we had a lot of older generations — 40 to 60s — who had a real emotional response to it, because the play sort of explores the pros and cons of growing up,” Morgan says. “What does it mean to grow up? And what are the great things that come along with that, and what are the not-so-great things that come along with that?”
Thought-provoking is the name of the game for the fledgling No Rules, whose credits include the upcoming “Suicide Incorporated” and last fall’s well-received “Stop Kiss,” a show about a hate crime and two women falling unexpectedly in love.
Although “Peter Pan” isn’t the group’s first family-friendly show — that was last season’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” — it does mark a new approach. The production is No Rules’ first commissioned play and first wholly new main-stage show. The play about not wanting to grow up turns out to be a milestone on the group’s path toward maturity.
“Ultimately I feel like [the show] honors children and their imagination and their experience, and how what they’re living right now is so remarkably important to who they become,” Morgan says.
Best for age 10 and older. Pay-what-you-can preview Wednesday, and $10 previews Thursday through Feb. 12. $15 rush tickets are available for full-time students one hour before curtain on a seating-available basis.