FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY flies but does not soar at BerkeleyRep.
FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY: Comedy/Fantasy by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Les Waters. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Rhoda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA. 510-647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. May 20 – July 3, 2016
FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY flies but does not soar at BerkeleyRep. Rating:
The love affair between BerkeleyRep and Sarah Ruhl continues with Les Waters again leading the way. Waters who has directed four of Ruhl’s plays when he was associate Artistic Director at the BerkeleyRep (Eurydice, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, an adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Dear Elizabeth) is now the Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville that commissioned Ruhl to write For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday that had its World Premiere at this year’s Humana New American Play Festival. It was well received at the Festival and now has travelled across country for its West Coast Premiere with four of the original cast members (Kathleen Chalfant (Ann), David Chandler (Jim), Ron Crawford (George) and Keith Reddin (Michael)) and an intact creative crew.
After having seen the World Premiere expectations were high on attending a Sunday matinee performance. The acting of the entire cast was first rate with BerkeleyRep’s quality production values intact but for inexplicable reasons the relatively short play without intermission did not fully engage the audience.
It all begins when aging Ann (Kathleen Chalfant) steps to the stage apron to reminisce about the time she played “Peter Pan” in Davenport, Iowa and meeting Mary Martin. She also recounts that her doctor father George loved her performance bringing her flowers. When the red curtain opens the set is a hospital room with George (Ron Crawford) dying and comatose in bed attached to realistic paraphernalia. To complete the cast Ellen McLaughlin is cast as Wendy and Charles Shaw Robinson as Jim. Each of the five children has an opinion of how to make him more comfortable. Many of the lines will resonate with anyone who has been through the experience of imminent death of a loved one
The play is dedicated to her real-life mother who played Peter in Iowa. Ruhl cleverly delineates the specific characteristics of each of the children masterfully using ordinary dialog to express their inner motivations and at the same time naturally creating their back stories. Never being didactic they also share their views on immortality or the lack immortality. It all ends with the heart monitor emitting a repetitive single beep as they all plaintively sing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
In a classic Waters’ conceit, a full High School Marching band paraded down the aisle and across the stage at the world premiere when the red curtain descended allowing the stage crew to change the set to the kitchen of the family home where the siblings are having a wake sipping Jameson Whiskey. At the Rep’s Sunday matinee performance that conceit lost its impact as the band was replaced by three young musicians playing horns.
Amongst ordinary conversation about past experiences, politics and future plans Ruhl has each express their feelings as to when they reached adulthood. While they are having serious conversation and banter their father’s ghost walks in and out of the scene with the long dead family dog (Yodel). Apparently Ruhl is making some sort of statement about the afterlife and although it is a bit obtuse it does fit in with the concept of aging and like Peter Pan there is the desire to “not grow up.”
This concept is fortified up when Ann discovers the green tights used when she played Peter Pan and has a dream in which she and her siblings recreate play. The stagehands create the bedroom set from the play and a mockup of Neverland. The costumes are hilarious especially the one for Captain Hook played by Crawford who is engaged in a duel (kudos to Fight Director Drew) and is vanquished. The flying by Ann and Wendy is a bit shaky but Chalfant and McLaughlin should earn extra pay for flight time.
There is a sentimental coda as Ann and the ghost of her father George at last gets to say a few words before the cast returns for its deserved curtain call. Recommended as a “should see” performance.
CAST: Kathleen Chalfant as Ann; David Chandler (John); Ron Crawford (George); Ellen McLaughlin (Wendy); Keith Reddin (Michael); and Charles Shaw Robinson (Jim).
CREATIVE TEAM: Annie Smart, Scenic Design; Kristopher Castle, Costume Designer; Matthew Frey, Lighting designer; Bray Poor, Sound Designer; Drew Fracher, Fight Director and ZFX Inc., Flying Effects.
Kedar Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com
L-R: Charles Shaw Robinson (Jim), Keith Reddin (Michael), David Chandler (John), Kathleen Chalfant as Ann; Ellen McLaughlin (Wendy) In Berkeley Rep’s For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday. Photo by Kevin Berne