Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Peter Pan
elite Dance & Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias


Drew Sowers and Coryn Richey
Photo by Two Brunos Photography
The wonderful thing about Cheri Costales's adaptations of famous stories is that she makes you look at something you thought you knew well and realize that you had never really thought about it much at all. What, for example, is Peter Pan actually about? There's obviously something more there than just an adventure story for kids and grownups' nostalgia for childhood, or it would not have survived for over a hundred years.

In Cheri's interpretation for elite Dance & Theatre, J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan is still a fun and exciting romp with pirates and fairies and mermaids and a ticking crocodile, but its main themes are the importance of motherhood and the human need to hear stories (or, in English major speak, the desire for narrative).

Surprisingly, Barrie's working subtitle for his 1904 play was not "The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up," but "The Boy Who Hated Mothers." (His producer insisted on changing it.) Ironic, probably, because Peter always seems to be searching for a surrogate mother. He is angry at his own because when he went back to his home after several years (he flew away when he was a mere seven days old), he found the window shut and a new boy in his bed. But he knows how necessary a mother is to other boys.

Why does Peter come to the Darling house in the first place? It's so that he can hover outside the nursery window and listen to the bedtime stories that Mrs. Darling reads every night to Wendy, John, and Michael. It's when the window is suddenly closed and his shadow is trapped inside that Peter returns to claim it and meets Wendy and the boys. He entices Wendy to come to Neverland because he feels that the Lost Boys (who fell out of their prams in Kensington Gardens) need a mother to tuck them in, give them their medicine, and tell them stories.

Most of the famous episodes that you know are here: Captain Hook and the pirates, Tiger Lily and the Indians (which now is sort of uncomfortable to watch, especially here in New Mexico), the near-death of Tinkerbell, and the appeal to the audience to save her. But Cheri brings in less well known incidents from Barrie's original, or creates new ones, in order to emphasize how central motherhood and storytelling are.

Costales resurrects a nearly forgotten character: The Neverbird, a mother who is so protective of her eggs that she hauls her nest around with her wherever she goes. (Here, cleverly, the nest is a little red wagon and the eggs are soccer balls. elite is always inventive in its use of props.)

And there is a charming pantomime in which Wendy directs the boys in acting out "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." This is one of the stories we all have in common, and we know what's going on even without words. Of course this is not in the original play, but by including it, Cheri makes it clear how stories draw us together, make us a community.

There is no fake flying in this show, but I didn't miss it. The inventiveness of the rest of the production more than makes up for its absence. A shopping cart as Captain Hook's ship works just fine. A slow-motion battle scene is remarkably choreographed and a lot of fun. There are a couple of impressive aerial hoop performances (which in a way is flying) by Tara Smartnick: one as the moon; and even more amazingly as a mermaid, because her legs are sewn together into a tight mermaid tail. The other dance numbers are well done and brief enough to not lose the interest of the children in the audience.

Cheri Costales adapted, directed, choreographed, and designed costumes, but as much as it seems to be a one-woman production, there are plenty of other people involved. Cara Sowers co-directed the dramatic segments; Linda Downum and Lillian Garcia are also responsible for costumes; Alyssa Lamb and Esther Michnovicz also choreographed; Ben Costales and Matt Ramsy did the lighting; and Cathy Costales somehow successfully stage-manages this show with about 40 people on stage at times and with some really quick costume changes.

Drew Sowers is an energetic and attractive Peter and it's easy to see why Wendy would go off with him. Hannah Vigil is excellent as Wendy, Joanna Rushing does a fine job as the narrator, and Coryn Richards is fun to watch as the constantly petulant Tinkerbell. Paul Costales could be a little more flamboyant as Hook, but the rest of the pirates take up the slack, especially Isaac Garcia with his nearly unintelligible Cockney accent as Smee. Ben Sowers is good as John, and Gabriel Zubiate as Michael is the happiest boy I have ever seen on stage. The littlest children, dressed as fairies, could not have been more adorable.

elite's 2016 shows are not as kid-friendly: The Scarlet Letter in April and The Picture of Dorian Gray in November. I'm anxious to see what Cheri Costales's take will be on these classics. Regardless, I'm sure that they will be revelatory experiences. (Two shows per year is not enough for my taste, but I guess that's the economics of community theater nowadays.)

Peter Pan, adapted by Cheri Costales, was presented by elite Dance & Theatre at the African-American Performing Arts Center in Albuquerque from December 10 through 12, 2015. For more information about elite Dance & Theatre, visit www.elitenm.net.


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