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Peter Pan and Wendy ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harmon Hall

Jordan Wright
December 18, 2019 

Though Peter gets top billing in Lauren Gunderson’s world premiere, make no mistake about it, her interpretation of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale elevates the female roles to star status.  As the most produced playwright in America, Gunderson’s imprimatur is writing plays about accomplished women in science and the arts who have become mere footnotes in history.  First performed in 1904, Barrie’s play was a product of its time, insensitive to sexism, racism and Colonialism and decidedly not politically correct.  In Gunderson’s adept hands we find the same level of excitement in Peter Pan’s fantasy world, but with a greater sensitivity to the female roles, an ethnically diverse cast, and a greater awareness in portraying indigenously correct characters.

Sinclair Daniel as Wendy, Chauncey Chestnut as Michael, Derek Smith as Mr. Darling. Bailey as Nana, Christopher Flaim as John, and Jenni Barber as Mrs. Darling Photo credit Teresa Castracane.

Here Wendy, Tinkerbell and Tiger Lily have been reframed to reflect stronger female identities.  Wendy, inspired by Marie Curie’s recent notoriety, pooh-poohs her father’s suggestion that she attend a posh finishing school, instead pleading for a science academy where she can pursue her love of the stars and mathematics.  Oh, yes!  Our Wendy is still a compassionate girl and protector of brothers Michael and John, but she’s now portrayed as a serious-minded student of cosmology.  Tinkerbell becomes a Valley Girl-voiced fireball, glammed to the max, and more in sync with the women of Wakanda.  “I’d probably go less Colonial genocide,” she warns Hook.  And Tiger Lily, performed by a member of the Dakota Nation, who becomes a heroine defending the peace and sanctity of her native lands.  “I’m here to avenge my people,” she tells Peter who, before he gets woke, comes off as a self-centered, anti-hero eager to fight his nemesis on a daily basis.

Sinclair Daniel as Wendy and Justin Mark as Peter Pan. Photo credit Teresa Castracane.

Gunderson’s Peter Pan and Wendy is a fantasy-filled production directed by the legendary Alan Paul with costumes by Loren Shaw, and Scenic Design by Jason Sherwood.  A perfect antidote to our times, it’s a technical marvel with a backstage crew of 66 designers, from animal trainers and animators to musicians and backstage crew.  Together they keep on Tinkerbell’s lights in flight and five of the actors (out of a cast of 19 plus one adorable live dog) soaring high above the stage.  I couldn’t keep track of how many pulse-quickening, pirate fights there were, nor the audience’s uncontrolled laughter watching the scenes between the vainglorious Captain Hook, his first mate the sycophantic Smee, and their batty crew of bungling pirates.  My only critique is that I wanted to see more of the dazzling mermaid floating on clouds of bubbles.

Tendo Nsubuga and Darren Alford as Twins, Joriah Kwame as Slightly, Francisco Gonzalez as Tootles, and Ronen Lewis as Curly. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

So, look to the starry skies to find Neverland, the Lost Boys, and Peter assisted by a very large tick-tocking crocodile and buttressed by girl power – Wendy, as strategic governor, Tinkerbelle, as a fierce defender, and Tiger Lily, as mediator.  And always remember who the land belongs to. “My people will always be here,” Tiger Lily reminds us.

Jenni Barber as Tinkerbell. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Highly recommended.

Starring Derek Smith as John Darling/Captain Hook; Justin Mark as Peter Pan; Sinclair Daniel as Wendy; Jenni Barber or Megan Huynh as Mrs. Darling/Tinkerbell; Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily; Tom Story as Smee; Christopher Flaim as John Darling; Chauncey Chestnut as Michael Darling; Bailey as Nana the dog.  With Francisco González as Tootles; Ronen Lewis as Curly; Joriah Kwame as Slightly; Darren Alford as Twin; Tendo Nsubuga as Twin; Michael Glenn as Jukes, Calvin McCullough as Noodler; and Gregory Wooddell as Starkey.

Composer Jenny Giering; Lighting Design by Isabella Byrd; Sound Design by John Gromada; Projection Design by Jared Mezzocchi; Puppet Design by James Ortiz; Flying Scenes choreographed by Paul Rubin; Choreographer Katie Spellman; Speical Effects by Jeremy Chernick.

Through January 12, 2020 from the Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Sidney Harmon Hall in the Michael R. Klein Theatre at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org or call the box office at 202.547.1122.

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