Premiere issue Autumn 2002

Puppets capture whimsy of 'Pan'

Peter & Wendy
Written by J.M. Barrie
Adapted and Produced by Liza Lorwin
Directed by Lee Breuer

Mandell Weiss Theatre
La Jolla Playhouse complex
University of California, San Diego; La Jolla, Calif.
Through Nov. 10

J.M. Barrie's story of childhood suspended — of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up — might not seem a tale in need of another re-telling. The tale has been turned into an extravagant Broadway musical, a treacly Disney animation, and even a Robin Williams vehicle.

But the puppeteers of the Mabou Mines troupe out of New York have found entire new veins of whimsy and magic in Barrie's tale — and their current production at the La Jolla Playhouse creates a palpable sense of magic that may come closest to capturing the feel of Barrie's novel.

Barrie himself told the Peter Pan story twice — the original in 1904 was a play, while the novelized form of "Peter and Wendy" was published in 1911. And it is this second telling by Barrie that Mabou Mines brings to stage.

This stage version of "Peter and Wendy" shares the novel's soft edges and sentiment, and has less of the play's sometimes abrasive sarcasm.

And when it is said that Mabou Mines use puppets, this isn't the Muppets or Punch and Judy: This is a highly imaginative and sophisticated staging — combining shadow puppets, Japanese Bunraku-style puppets, and styles unique to this troupe.

Peter & Wendy The set design is equally non-literal. A few boxes and a window become the Darling children's nursery. Blue fabric is the lagoon. Some square cloths hung vertically are Hook's pirate ship.

Combined with the low lighting and Karen Kandel's melodious narration, it all works better than any straight interpretation at helping the grown-ups in the audience remember what it is to be a child.

For the children, the Playhouse is recommending only those 12 and older. Your 9- and 11-year-old co-critics enjoyed the performance, however — although there were times the younger one had trouble following the story, and at two and a half hours it was a bit long for them.

But for anyone who has wondered if perhaps there isn't more to Peter Pan than Disney's brand name version, "Peter and Wendy" is a delightful return to wonder and whimsy.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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