The lost boy (and other childhood delusions)♦
“There are two kinds of people in the world,” my therapist used to say. “Those who think they had a happy childhood, and those who know they didn’t.” In other words, childhood— a time when you understand nothing and control nothing— is inherently terrifying, however much we may later kid ourselves to the contrary.
The playwright James M. Barrie, as a 44-year-old adult writing in 1904, thought he had a happy childhood. His protagonist, Peter Pan, pursues a straightforward philosophy: “I want always to be a little boy and have fun.” And it may indeed be true that kids had all the fun in Edwardian England, an age sadly deprived of such modern grownup pleasures as leisure time, SUVs, cable TV, cell phones, tapas bars, Internet chat rooms, Muzak in elevators, guilt-free adultery, frequent-flyer miles and legal pornography.
Whatever— Peter Pan is largely irrelevant today, and the Walnut Street Theatre’s revival of the 1954 musical adaptation makes no effort to pretend otherwise. This enjoyable production offers relentless good cheer, elaborate and colorful sets, snappy choreography and a crew of very funny bumbling pirates worthy of (and actually derivative of) some of the better “Monty Python” skits. Cary Michelle Miller, last seen at the Walnut as the upwardly mobile Carrie Snow in Carousel, here demonstrates her versatility as the invulnerably boyish Peter Pan. Paul Schoeffler is commanding and comedic as the insufferable Captain Hook, a villain weighted down not only by the loss of his hand to a crocodile but, worse, by the lack of fun that derives from his presumed status as a pirate king. Marc Robin’s direction and choreography keep things moving fast enough to make the evening palatable for kids and grownups alike.
The only missing element, in fact, is drama. When I, as a kid, saw the 1954 Broadway musical (not to mention the subsequent Disney cartoon version), it was still possible to perceive the threat posed by the pirates against Peter, the Darling children, the lost boys and the Indians as a matter of genuine concern, and Hook’s defeat a cause for relief and celebration. But in the Walnut’s version, even the prospect of walking the plank is played for laughs, and the fearsome pirates are just another chorus line, albeit a very funny one.
But I suspect the Walnut knows its audience better than I do. You can’t frighten today’s kids with Captain Hook when they’ve already seen Johnny Depp as a real pirate king. And scaring them with Indians is politically incorrect. Much smarter just to let the kids have fun— which is to say, let them pretend for one night that they’re grownups.
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