December 23, 2019 at 10:29 am EST | by Patrick Folliard
‘Peter Pan’ gets woke in new STC production
Peter Pan and Wendy review, gay news, Washington Blade
Sinclair Daniel as Wendy and Justin Mark as Peter Pan in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

‘Peter Pan and Wendy’
Through Jan. 12
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W. 

Plug your ears and Shakespeare Theatre Company’s world premiere of “Peter Pan and Wendy,” Lauren Gunderson’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic “Peter Pan,” would pass for something very close to the original. All the usual suspects are onboard including the flying boy in green, the crocodile, a mischievous fairy, three kids in nightclothes, mermaids, a gang of boys and a clotheshorse pirate with a hook where a hand used to be. And sequentially it moves, like the original, from Edwardian London to an imaginary distant island called Neverland.  

But with open ears, it’s another story. Gunderson’s woke version takes a line from Barrie’s 1904 script — “One girl is worth twenty boys” — and runs with it. Young Wendy Darling isn’t interested in mothering. She aspires to be a scientist like her idol, Nobel Prize-winning chemist/physicist Marie Curie. Tiger Lily is a Native rights activist. And girl-hating Tinkerbell learns to appreciate her rival females.

Here, Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, is rather sidelined by strong young women from whom he ultimately learns a thing or two. 

In the Darling’s spacious nursery shared by determined Wendy (Sinclair Daniel) and her younger sibs, trepidatious John (Christopher Flaim) and hopelessly adorable Michael (Chauncey Chestnut), a telescope is pointed at the night sky. While Wendy is happy looking at the planets, reading science books and telling bedtime stories, her parents have other ideas for their only daughter, including finishing school. 

“Why would anyone want to finish their children?” Wendy earnestly asks her conventionally bourgeoise mother. 

Heading out for yet another evening of networking and fun, the older Darlings blithely leave their offspring under the care of Nana, a big loping canine (played by real life Labradoodle and scene stealer Bailey) dressed in period nanny’s collar and cap.   

On this night, an uninvited Peter Pan drops by the nursery. After some discussion about errant shadows and the downside of growing up, Peter (played unaffectedly by likable actor Justin Mark) invites Wendy and brothers to Neverland. With the help of some fairy dust and the expertise of Paul Rubin (flying sequences choreographer), the quartet soar daringly high above the cavernous Sidney Harman Hall stage. 

Out director Alan Paul heads an A-team of designers who’ve created a marvelous, magical dream world. Jason Sherwood’s applause-inducing sets includes a blue/gray nursery fronted by a low, illuminated London skyline instead of footlights; the Lost Boys’ crude but cozy lair hidden beneath a pile of gigantic out-sized toys; and, of course, a big, rollicking pirate ship.  

What’s likely the largest and most startling crocodile you’ve ever seen comes compliments of puppet designer James Ortiz; and Jared Mezzocchi’s projections include Peter’s active shadow and scary, engulfing flames. Loren Shaw’s fabulous costumes from Mrs. Darling’s luxe finery to the Lost Boys’ delightful array of ragtag period getups, capture the flare and fun of the tale. 

It’s a visually stunning production that appears to have spared no expense. 

The plotline mostly follows Barrie’s story. Gunderson’s language is contemporary and like the best of family theater, her script provides giggles for the grown-ups. Here it’s the simmering attraction between fussy, wannabe mass murderer Captain Hook (Derek Smith) and Smee, Hook’s besotted, effete right-hand functionary played hilariously by out actor Tom Story. Also funny are Broadway’s Jenni Barber as a bitchy, Tinkerbell in gold sequins and a trio of inept pirates.  

Not a princess, but rather a real girl with real skills, Tiger Lily (Isabella Star LaBlanc) is avenging her nation, Neverland’s indigenous people whose land was stolen. Together, she, Wendy and Tinkerbell use agility, smarts and magic to overcome their enemies — the pirates and Hook who’s described as possessing the telltale signs of a tyrant: big coat, weird hair and no heart (sound familiar?). 

Yes, “Peter Pan and Wendy” is for young theatergoers too. But please keep in mind, it’s recommended for audiences 5 years and older. A baby’s gurgles and coos may be divine, but not when said infant is making sounds two rows behind you, especially if you’re already straining to hear one or two of the show’s younger actors. 

Shakespeare Theatre Company doesn’t exactly scream theater for kids. But its current offering, a helping of the familiar and fun with a big dash of girl power, makes for a timely, holiday treat that families can see together. 

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