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Flash Review 3, 2-8: At Play with the Comfortable and Disturbing
Mining Love and Other Wonders in Mabou Mines's "Peter and Wendy"

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2002 Peggy H. Cheng

NEW YORK -- It is immediately apparent that there are many people hard at work in the magical Mabou Mines production of "Peter and Wendy," being presented by the New Victory Theater through February 24. Karen Kandel, as all the voices in the Darling nursery and Neverland in this adaptation of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," also acts as narrator/storyteller. In the meantime, puppeteers (seven in all) and musicians (six in the performance seen Saturday), in what appears to be a seamless collaborative effort with speaker Kandel, bring all the characters to life.

The production is aptly named "Peter and Wendy" for it focuses on an odd, sad love affair between the boy who won't grow up and a beyond-sweet girl who is lured from the safety of her nursery (and her Nana -- a prim, prancing Retriever who keeps the Darling charges in step). Strangely disconcerting is Peter and the Lost Boys' insistence that Wendy become their mother -- to take care of them and their home. She readily does this, and readily adores her Peter, in competition with the tiny but aggressive Tinkerbell and later, a sexy Tiger Lily. The Peter/Wendy relationship seems to be in parallel to the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Darling: Mr. Darling is childish and vies (against Nana) for the attention of his wife and children much as Peter crows "Me, me, me..." in a call for recognition. Mrs. Darling is beautiful, graceful, and has her children's pure, un-jaded love much as Wendy is immediately tapped by Peter and the Lost Boys for her apparent natural inclination to want to care for them.

Kandel and the puppeteers are at play in a most delightful way. Her transformations of voice and body are as fascinating as the transformations of the puppeteers. Dressed in white and with faces masked at all times, the puppeteers (including Master Puppeteers Basil Twist and Jane Catherine Shaw with Sam Hack, Lute Ramblin', Sarah Provost, Jessica Chandlee Smith, and Jenny Subjack) work, often together, to bring characters to life with carefully crafted choreography of their bodies, clothing, masks, paper, cloth puppets, wooden puppets, shadows and light, and a set of finger cymbals (Tinkerbell). The musicians, playing and singing live, add another dimension of transformation to the theater, giving us a fitting soundtrack to "Peter and Wendy."

What the piece depicts of childhood, and the mind of a child, is served well by all the transformations that take place before us, bringing life to formerly lifeless objects, and informing our eyes and ears that it is possible for your imagination to come to life on stage. At times I found the piece intensely sad and odd, especially in its examination of the various characters' feelings on love, particularly between adults and children -- this makes the piece, thankfully, fertile ground for both the comfortable and disturbing in our imaginations.

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