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Lauren Gunderson has given J.M. Barrie’s classic play, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, a new life that local audiences can experience at Sidney Harman Hall. Her adaptation, Peter Pan and Wendy, is not just about magic, it is about girl power and indigenous rights; even the boy who never grows up matures a bit. And it contains just enough action and entertainment to compel you to clap and save Tinkerbell when the play reaches its iconic moment.
This play is more about Wendy Darling (Sinclair Daniel) than Peter Pan (Justin Mark). Instead of playing the traditional mother figure of the Lost Boys, this Wendy is a young astronomy buff who dreads the purgatory of finishing school that her parents intend for her; she wants to emulate the scientist Marie Curie, giving a darn about science, not socks. She is also a ferociously talented multitasker, spinning stories that entertain her two younger brothers, and stitching Peter Pan’s shadow when he shows up.
Silicon Valley magnates are investing furiously in anti-aging, and they would probably just do as well to seek the elixir of youth in Peter Pan. Mark’s Peter Pan is a vain, prancing boy searching for a mother figure. Gunderson has a problem: How do you make the boy more complex when the other characters in the play mature? The issue is not satisfactorily dealt with, but Peter does develop a level of empathy for the historically problematic character of Tiger Lily (an energetic Isabella Star LaBlanc), the indigenous princess.
“This is your adventure, not mine,” Tiger Lily tells Peter, explaining that Neverland originally belonged to her tribe and people, not to Peter or the pirates he fights. Her earnestness contrasts with Peter, for whom the whole play is, well, a play, as he seeks adventure and combat with Captain Hook, his nemesis.
The star of the play is Derek Smith, who plays Wendy’s father as well as Hook, the charismatic and engaging villain who wants vengeance on Peter for cutting off his hand and forcing him to replace it with a hook. He also lives in appropriate terror of a crocodile that has tasted his hand, enjoyed it tremendously, and wants to gobble what else the understandably reluctant Captain has on offer.
The greatest fun in the play lies in the exchanges between Hook and Smee (Tom Story), the ineffectual lieutenant pirate who is not particularly good at his assigned task of hunting the Lost Boys. Smee is an entertaining foil to the Captain. Under Alan Paul’s competent direction, the incompetent pirates of the story will have you hooked.
Tinkerbell (Jenni Barber) plays another strong supporting role. In this recast play, the new Tinkerbell’s signature moment arrives when she quells a quarrel amongst the leading women of the play, asking them “Don’t you understand how utterly useless it is for girls to go against girls?”
But Tinkerbell’s real fairy dust is sprinkled all over the set. Jason Sherwood’s scenic design is truly a work of magic, and when you see it, you will feel that Neverland has, for once, become real.
So, do you believe in fairies? Do you? Then head to F Street NW and clap your hands. Clap again. Clap harder. Harder!
To Jan. 12 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. $35–$140. (202) 547-1122. shakespearetheatre.org.