Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Peter and Wendy
Also see Susan's review of I Am My Own Wife
Mabou Mines is a renowned avant-garde theater company based in New York, whose works often integrate puppetry and other unique forms of presentation. Part of the seamlessness of the experience is that director Lee Breuer and her collaborators have been presenting and polishing the work since 1996.
Peter and Wendy takes a story that people think they know well and makes it new and surprising again through the use of stick puppets, shadow puppets, set pieces that rise and vanish as if in a dream, and live musicians performing Celtic-flavored music by Johnny Cunningham. Julie Archer's design incorporates even more media, including video projections.
This production has a more elegiac tone than most traditional productions of Peter Pan. The narrator, Karen Kandel who takes on the primary role of Wendy but speaks for all the characters explains that children begin to feel loss as soon as they realize they aren't going to be children forever. Similarly, while Peter's Neverland is a real place in the context of Barrie's story, it is also defined as the map of a child's mind, especially during sleep.
A battery of puppeteers, dressed in white Edwardian suits or dresses and wearing face coverings that suggest beekeeper's veils, bring the story to life. Peter Pan himself is a rough-faced, red-haired boy with a Scots accent (like Barrie); Captain Hook has a bald, dead white head; and a group of segmented wooden figures represent most of the other characters, from the Lost Boys to the pirates and the Indians commanded by Tiger Lily. Often the puppeteers' movements are as entertaining to watch as the puppets': the way puppeteers lie on their backs to propel the crocodile (actually Nana the dog with a crocodile mask) across the stage, for example, and the way the arms of a puppeteer echo the curve of the Neverbird's wings.
Descriptions really do not do justice to the visual richness and emotional acuity of Peter and Wendy. This show must be seen and experienced to be fully appreciated.