Peter Pan (Mt. Tamalpais State Park)
If your only exposure to a “live” production of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was the NBC Television fiasco of last December featuring an over-her-head Allison Williams and a somnambulant Christopher Walken, then you’re encouraged to plan a day trip to Marin County’s own Neverland (Mount Tamalpais) and take in the 102nd Mountain Play.
A truly unique theatrical experience, the Mountain Play is a fully produced theatrical event held annually in the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre inside Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This year brings a somewhat modified version of the original 1954 Broadway musical Peter Pan. Melissa WolfKlain, a familiar face and voice to Bay Area theatre goers, stars as Peter Pan and Jeff Wiesen plays dual roles as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.
Director Michael Schwartz brings them and a cast of precocious Darlings, mischievous Lost Boys, bumbling Pirates, and colorful Neverland Natives and plops them, their London bedroom, and Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger smack dab in the middle of a Northern California redwood grove and oak woodland. Barrie’s tale of the challenges of growing up (or the refusal to do so) is well served by its cast of energetic teens, pre-teens, post-teens and theatrical veterans.
Schwartz continues the somewhat inexplicable tradition of casting a female in the role of Peter Pan, a tradition that I have never understood. It’s not meant as a knock on the talented Ms. WolkKlain (who acquits herself quite nicely, remembering that a great deal of her performance is done while dangling from wires twenty feet above the stage) to say that I heard the same question being uttered by several younger members of the audience that I asked as a kid watching a repeat of the 1960 Mary Martin telecast – “Why is Peter Pan a girl?” It’s a question for which no one seems to have a definitive answer, and some sources indicate the author himself wished to see the role played by a young male.
Wiesen makes for a particularly entertaining Captain Hook, playing the villain to the hilt and relishing in the audience’s booing and hissing. He receives good support from his inept crew, led by the blissfully incompetent Smee (David Yen).
Standing out among the talented younger cast were Erin Ashe (strong as Wendy Darling) and Walker Brinskele, who impressed enough with the small role of Slightly to make me think that an enterprising theatre company might do well to consider him for the title role in their own production of this piece.
Beyond casting, the play presents several other challenges to a director, from the scripted stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans to what to do about Tinkerbell, who’s usually presented as a beam of light – difficult to accomplish in the blazing midday sun. Schwartz handles both in a manner that takes nothing away from the material and actually adds a bit of magic and color to the proceedings.
Musical director Debra Chambliss and her 17 piece orchestra are in fine form with the musical score. Erik Flatmo’s scenic design allows for easy transformation from bedroom to ship’s deck and back again with necessary accommodations for cast members requiring flight. Heidi Hanson’s costumes delight, from Hook’s full pirate regalia to the native “wildlife” of Neverland.
The Mountain Play bills itself as “a great outdoor theatre adventure.” That adventure can include a pre- or post-show hike in the park or a picnic during the show. Audiences are encouraged to bring food and ‘spirits’ to enhance their enjoyment of the day, or they’re welcome to purchase food or beverages on-site. These, by the way, were actually very reasonably priced.
There are pre- and post-show activities and entertainment, ranging from Hook’s Pirates accosting and serenading the crowd to some Lost Boys looking to recruit a few new members. There’s a Playland with a twice-daily puppet show plus other fun for the kids. After the performance, you’re welcome to meet the cast and get an up-close look at Neverland.
Take a fun and musically magical performance of Peter Pan, add the majesty of Mt. Tamalpais and its surroundings, mix in some dining and a beverage (or two) while the kids engage in the show or the other entertainments and you have the makings of a very unique and enjoyable theatrical experience indeed.
Note – It is HIGHLY recommended that you visit the Mountain Play website for critical information regarding parking and transportation to the show as well as other important information.
Presented by the Mountain Play Association
Sundays through June 21 @ 2pm, Saturday June 13 @ 2pm
Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre
Mt. Tamalpais State Park
801 Panoramic Highway
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Photos by Robin McNally & Ed Smith