Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Seventy-year-old Ann (Kathleen Chalfant) comes through the parting curtains to give the audience a brief recollection about playing Peter Pan in a children's theater in Davenport, Iowa. She also tells about her life with her Irish Catholic family. The curtains open to reveal a hospital room where her father George (Ron Crawford) is dying hooked up to buzzy gadgets. Her elderly brothers John, Michael and Jim (Charles Shaw Robinson, Keith Reddin and David Chandler) and her aging sister Wendy (Ellen McLaughlin) are in the room and are sidetracking the death of the father with news of their own lives. They reexamine discussions about whether their father favored one child over the other and argue about the politics of the time (the Bill Clinton presidency).
The second scene is in the dining room of the family home. Once again they discuss tales from their past lives. For Michael it is about becoming a doctor, for John just sitting at a big table at a holiday dinner, for Ann it is about playing Peter Pan as a kid. They discuss the idea of an afterlife and God, their Catholic faith, ideas and gestures. Ann declares she believes more in Tinkerbell than an afterlife. Throughout the exchange, the ghost of their father wanders in and out of the room, sometimes with a huge St. Bernard dog named Yodel.
Suddenly, three band members come from the back of the theater and go down the aisle to the stage, playing trumpets to introduce the fantasy portion of the drama. Ann becomes Peter Pan, and the rusty siblings take over the roles of Wendy, the Lost Boys and Captain Hookcomplete with aerial work. This part is droll, clever and compassionate but never gushy. It's a terrific piece of theater with great production values.
Kathleen Chalfant is excellent as Ann and Peter Pan. She utterly coerces and charms her performance as she recounts her love of performing in Peter Pan and meeting Mary Martin, who played the role in the television version. The rest of the cast aptly provide respectable performances as the siblings. In the fantastic fantasy scene Kathleen Chalfant beautifully morphs into an aging Peter Pan as she flies about the stage, and Wendy and the Lost Boys skillfully become childlike. Jim Chandler shines as Captain Hook and his long death scene is hilarious.
Les Water's direction is stylish and smooth. Scenic designer Annie Smart's work is outstanding, particularly in the details of the hospital and dining room sets and especially in the fantasy scenes. Costumes by Kristopher Castle, particularly the fantasy, are colorful.
For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday plays through July 3rd, 2016, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.