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Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up
The Vortex Theatre

Peter Pan
(clockwise, from bottom) Quinn Rol Stephen Armijo, Devon Hoffman and Kir Kipness
This month, The Vortex Theatre re-imagines J.M. Barrie's classic in their production of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. The adaptation by John Caird and Trevor Nunn is directed by Lauren Dusek Albonico.

Albonico's credits include Theatre for Young Audiences and the Saturday Theatre Classes for Young People program at UNM; she also holds an M.A. in Theatre Education and Outreach from UNM. Her obvious passion for working with young people through theatre shows in her direction, and makes her a perfect fit to direct a play about youth and imagination. The staging is simplistic, which works because the minimalist set and many toy-like props invite the audience to join the characters in imagining the world of Neverland. Actors draw on the stage with chalk, turn a bed into the Lost Boys' elaborate fort or Captain Hook's pirate ship, and arm themselves with colorful inner tubes and foam pool noodles to go visit the mermaids. In the scene early on when Peter teaches the Darling children how to fly, I was just beginning to wonder how they were going to make it work when they revealed their clever solution that emphasized the theme of children at play. Throughout the performance I felt as if I were watching children playing make-believe in their nursery.

Albonico directs a cast composed almost entirely of students or recent graduates from the University of New Mexico's theatre program. While the cast is young, they are certainly talented and had the audience laughing and enjoying themselves throughout the performance. The youthfulness of the cast works for the production in a way that an ensemble of older actors in their thirties or forties might not. They manage to strike the important balance between youth and adulthood while not leaning too much in either direction, which is appropriate because Peter Pan is less about young vs. old and more about the journey in between, that of growing up.

Kir Kipness plays the female lead of Wendy Darling quite well. A theatre education student at UNM, her previous performance credits include The Drowsy Chaperone and Into the Woods. Kir's mannerisms help her embody the role of the not-quite-sixteen-year-old Wendy; she easily plays—and fights—with her two brothers (played by Stephen Armijo and Devon Hoffman), and her voice has the high-pitched musical quality of a young girl's. Her acting chops are truly revealed at the end of the play, however, when she transitions from Wendy as a child to Wendy as an adult, a grown woman with children of her own. While her costume change is minimal—in fact, she doesn't even exit the stage for it—her face changes and she looks more serious and thoughtful, and her voice is lower and softer. I had no trouble believing that Wendy had aged decades in a matter of seconds.

Peter Pan is played by Quinn Rol, another UNM student set to graduate next May. He has recently performed in Pippin at the North 4th Theatre and The Beauty Queen of Leenane at The Filling Station; he also played one of the leads in UNM's recent production of Eccentricities of a Nightingale. In his first few minutes on stage, Rol seems a little at odds with his character: he is tall, muscular and has a low voice, traits that seem out of place for Peter Pan, who is supposed to represent the essence of boyhood. Rol makes up for it through his acting ability, however. He constantly leaps around the stage, playing and exploring like a young boy would, and he giggles and blushes convincingly when Wendy gives him a "thimble" (e.g. kiss) in the nursery.

The rest of the ensemble cast do equally well. The Lost Boys (Justino Brokaw, Van Hollenbeck, Kevin O'Boyle and Travis Sweatte) are innocent and endearing; Hook's motley pirate crew (Ellen Kress, Alexandra McCrary, Katie Farmin and Evening Star Barron) provides snarling comedic relief; Skye Fort adds wordless personality to the dog Nana, the fairy Tink, and the mermaid; and Carly Shea Moses (Mrs. Darling/Smee) and Ed Chavez (Mr. Darling/Hook) easily morph between their incredibly different characters. Chavez somewhat steals the show as Hook, using volatile facial expressions, flowery language and eccentric gestures to portray a villain who is more desperate, fearful and downright funny than he is menacing.

One of the most original aspects of this performance is the presence of the storyteller, played by Stephanie Grilo, who narrates the entire production. Again, this element pulled me into the performance, as if I were listening to my mother tell me a story while simultaneously watching it unfold on stage. In terms of the minimalist set, the ensemble cast and the emphasis on imagination, I have seen other adaptations of Barrie's classic quite similar to this one. However, this production does what it does well, and its playfulness, humor and moments of poignancy certainly make it worth seeing.

Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up is playing through January 29th at The Vortex Theatre, 2004 Central Avenue SE, Albuquerque. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm, with a talkback performance on Sunday, January 15th. General admission tickets are $15, student rush and children under eighteen accompanied by an adult are $10. Tickets may be purchased at the door, over the phone at 505-247-8600 or online at vortexabq.org.


Photo by arrangement with Alan Mitchell Photography

--Sarah Parro



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