By Sandi Durell
From behind a closed curtain, emerges the charismatic Kathleen Chalfant (who plays the role of Ann) relating her most important and formative life memory . . . fifty years ago playing Peter Pan in a children’s theater production and meeting Mary Martin. Her delivery to the audience is so spontaneously realistic, you’d swear this was her personal undeniable truth. But, then, it is the remarkable Ms. Chalfant, a perfect storyteller for Sarah Ruhl’s new play For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday.
When five siblings find themselves at their father’s hospital bedside waiting for him to take his final breath, they are both sad and light-hearted. They’re a close knit family going through the ritual of memories and keeping busy; the dialogue quick, clever and revealing touching on religion, bureaucracy, politics and the all too familiar waiting for someone to die. Expect many a chuckle. The family consists of Ann and her brothers John (Daniel Jenkins), Michael (Keith Reddin), Jim (David Chandler), younger sister Wendy (Lisa Emery) and Dad (Ron Crawford). Jim and Michael are doctors. There are unending silences that make one wonder why. They sleep – on the floor, chair, waiting. The TV goes on, suddenly switching from an annoying Pilates commercial to VCR of family home movies – Christmas – Annie as Peter Pan (we only see the siblings’ reactions).
Dad dies. The play moves along in recurring remembrances; religion a big topic as is Santa (to believe or not to believe), the talk free and easy as they eat and drink and recall, the conversation moving to growing up, feeling grown up.
(Jim) Well, if you don’t grow up you don’t have to die.
Here’s to not growing up, Annie. You and me!
Then politics gets in the way as blood pressures and emotions run high along with vocal pitches and conflicting ideas.
(Annie) It’s just that if this family, who loves each other about as much as a
family can, can’t talk about politics in a civilized fashion, how do you
expect the rest of the country to talk to each other at all?
Annie cries – she is the most affected, unable to understand the why of others’ political positions. Point made!
When an old trunk appears at the edge of the stage in front of the curtain, Annie slowly opens it and becomes trance-like as each dress and stuffed toy bring up the unforgettable past. But when she finds and dons her Peter Pan costume the play moves into dreamland, or better yet Neverland! They’re back in their nursery, Annie trying to take off and fly, crowing. They’re children again, they don’t want to grow up as Wendy helps Peter-Annie find her shadow, Annie spreading fairy dust and bringing Tinkerbell into the fray. Look out, the Jolly Roger is about to take off, as do Annie and Wendy as they battle Capt. Hook (brother Jim)
All the while, the ghost of their deceased father appears at appropriate moments rattling along with the dear deceased family dog Macy making well timed entrances.
Ah, childhood. . . wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to think about growing up or getting old. But, for some of us, there is a second childhood as Sarah Ruhl succinctly proves. It’s the old adage, you’re as young as you feel or as you want to be. But we must all deal with aging and mortality.
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up. Not me! Not I! (“I Won’t Grow Up” –Peter Pan)
The set by David Zinn is multi-purpose, as the hospital, the back of their childhood home converting ever so easily into a child’s nursery. Costumes are by Kristopher Castle with lighting by Matt Frey. Flying effects are accomplished by ZFX,Inc. And original music is by Bray Poor with sound design by Charles Coes.
It takes a while for this play to get going, but once it does, it fulfills many emotions in oh so tender moments of love and honesty, addressing our mutual humanity. The cast is loveable and loving.
For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday is directed by Les Waters and performs at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage, 416 West 42 Street, NC in a limited engagement thru October 1 and runs 90 minutes. www.playwrightshorizons.org
Photos: Joan Marcus