February 22, 2020
Friendship glitter for the heart – fresh take on the ‘Peter Pan’ story
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
The Des Moines Community Playhouse includes an exceptional children’s theatre programming venue in the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre. Pulling the best stage adaptations from the worlds of children’s and young reader’s literature, this facet of Playhouse programming provides patrons a trustworthy option whenever a new show opens. There are few stories as well-known or as beloved as J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” and this different point of view delivers the anchor touchstones of that original story while delighting audiences with an expanded telling of the story from Tinker Bell’s view.
Barrie – or, more formally, Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM – was a Scottish novelist who relocated to London. Although he wrote many successful novels and plays, his “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” overshadowed his other work. Real life people and places inspired Peter Pan and, before his death, Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which still benefits from that act of generosity.
Tinker Bell is playwright Patrick Flynn’s creation based on Barrie’s works where he expands the timeline to provide some back story while giving voice to Tinker Bell as the protagonist. His is a tale cemented in friendship: from seeking friendship to testing friendship to the powerful bonds of friendship. Flynn’s Tinker Bell allows us to shake the ingrained memories of a rollicking point of light on stage or the pert Disney animated version, giving us an eye-opening “rest-of-the-story” enhancement of the Pan story. The full title of this play is revealing: Tinker Bell: A Multicolored Tale Including Her Banishment by Peter Pan and Triumph at the Battle for Neverland. Whichever title you prefer, venture to the Kate Goldman’s manifestation of Neverland for a delightful adventure. Director Katy Merriman has guided a wonderful production into a touching show.
Buoyantly carrying the title character load is Maia Talerico, whose open, deliberate and animated Tinker Bell captivates, especially the younger audience members. She earnestly shares her story as she pursues her dream of friendship. Her quest is aided by an unexpected source: Mr. Smee, the jovial, philosophical pirate magnificently portrayed by Chris Ennis. Ennis’ interspersed scenes bring a joyful energy each time he steps on stage. He becomes a perfect foil for his boss, the refined yet wicked Captain Jas. Hook (given dastardly poise by Michael Howland), and provides unexpected counsel to “Tink” while immersing himself in a not-so-pirately pastime, darning socks. The object of Tink’s friendship advances, Peter Pan, is played by Ashley Marie Rogers. In this version, Pan begins as a lost boy on a London street. With a fairy dust-fueled trip to the land where Tink resides, Pan brings a restorative presence to Tink’s self-described fading environment. Rogers eventually radiates all the androgynous appeal of Pan, a rebellious free spirit that tugs at the core of all who remain children at heart. Add energized pirates, lost boys and Darling children, and this show retains Barrie’s magic.
Flynn gives wonderful homage to the pivotal story plot point when the fourth wall is broached and the audience is implored to save Tinker Bell and prove their belief in fairies. That moment takes anyone back to the first time they experienced that interactive empowerment, proving that the audience’s relationship with the Peter Pan saga is secure for this and future generations. The audience responded and saves Tinker Bell from an unsavory fate.
Add the intimacy of the Kate Goldman’s space, a wonderful three-quarter black box staging area which changes each time for another adventure into the live performance of a beloved children’s classic book. This time, the transformation brings an exquisite multi-level Neverland with wonderful production design (Angela Lampe and Merriman), built by the talented production team of Nicholas Amundson and Charissa L. Hamel (scenic artists), costumes (Lampe), lighting (Jason Paull), sound effects (Merriman), and properties (Robin Breen Fulton). The imaginative world they transport the audience to begins when entering the theater, and will last well beyond the gratifying final scene and curtain call. Let the fairy dust swirl and allow yourself to visit a place familiar, re-acquaint yourself with those characters, and be prepared to appreciate the wisdom and wonder of Tinker Bell.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.