J.M. Barrie first wrote Peter Panas a play in 1904, and each time he tinkered with it, it became sadder. Peter and Wendy, the melancholy 1911 prose version of the story, is the basis from which Michael Lluberes has fashioned Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers, reviving, says the program of No Rules Theatre Company’s world premiere, a title Barrie had considered himself.
It’s fitting, then, that Lisa Hodsoll is double-cast as Mrs. Darling, the depressive, stained-mascara mother of Wendy, and as Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook. That hook is more of a rusty scythe here—one that, for all the pirate’s ranting about the appendage Peter took from him (though really it was a hungry crocodile), appears to augment rather than replace his hand. The sense of menace comes courtesy of Elisheba Ittoop’s nightmarish sound design—icy wind, a far-off infant’s wailing, and later, the nautical cues that turn the cluttered third-floor bedroom scenic designer Daniel Pinha has created into the high seas of Never Neverland.
Megan Graves does a fine job with Wendy’s enthusiasm at the prospect of being adopted as a mother to the lost boys, and her gradual disappointment at Peter’s refusal to grow up at least enough to learn the difference between a thimble and a kiss. As Peter, John Evans Reese is petulant and feral, leaping around the set as though he can outrun the spectre of maturity. I’m not sure it’s necessary for the entire cast to affect English accents (Jennifer Mendenhall is the dialect coach) just because it’s an English story; it makes the Lost Boys, in particular, sound more alike—and more shrill—than they otherwise might. Joshua Morgan, one of No Rules’ co-artistic directors, provides musical direction. The sung version of William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child,” with its refrain, “the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand,” is the kind of grace note that puts this show over the top. By the time we get to the haunting coda, we’ve been well and truly seduced.
The best words to sum it up may come from J.M. Barrie himself: It suffers “no tedious distance between one adventure and another, but [is] nicely crammed.”