“I’ve known her 23 years,” said Eric Schaeffer, the theater’s artistic director, who first worked with Gardner during the run of “Mill Fire.” She volunteered to spearhead a program for new plays, he said, “and the rest is history.”
“She had endless energy,” he added, recalling how the Signature staff gave Gardner an iPad when she was in the hospital — she had been sick since June — so she could stay involved with the theater. As recently as two weeks ago, Schaeffer said, she had a running list of questions for him about Signature’s upcoming productions. “She was on top of it. She never stopped.”
Gardner was a devoted colleague and a passionate supporter of D.C. playwrights. “The hardest thing in theater is people all want to talk,” Schaeffer said. “She was a really great listener.”
She was 66, although perhaps she wouldn’t have been thrilled at the thought of her age being printed in the newspaper. “She never wanted anyone to know her age,” Schaeffer said. “The insurance company called [HR] once to check her birthday, because they had three birth dates for her.”
Her work as Signature’s education director “touched over 10,000 kids and introduced them to the theater,” he said. “It’s really life-changing.”
Gardner will be remembered as an integral part of D.C. theater. “She was a great team spirit,” Schaeffer said.
Straight on till morning
When Michael Lluberes revisited “Peter Pan” as an adult, he saw blood.
“The first thing that jumped out was how bloody it was,” he said. “How sad parts of it were, and how true it was.”
Lluberes adapted J.M. Barrie’s classic as No Rules Theatre Company’s “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers,” a show he is also directing. While working on his script, Lluberes uprooted Barrie’s family tree and uncovered more dirt than the unsuspecting reader might expect. When Barrie was 6, his brother died on the eve of his 14th birthday. His mother, Lluberes said, became “inconsolable, and Barrie would dress up as his dead brother for his mother. The brother who died became this kind of symbol. The only comfort she found was that he would stay a child forever, he would never grow up. . . . It’s really the ghost of the play, this brother, and the mother who lost the child and is trying to find him again.”
It’s through this dark lens that “The Boy Who Hated Mothers” sees the story you probably know by heart. Lluberes’s interpretation begins with the death of Michael, the youngest brother (in the animated Disney version, he is the toddler in the pink onesie, clutching the paw of his teddy bear) and the surviving Darling children’s desire to escape their gloomy reality.