Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Nightmares in Neverland
Also see Tim's review of The Body Lautrec
Nightmares in Neverland is a program consisting of two one-act plays, each about different aspects of J.M. Barrie and his most famous creation, Peter Pan. The first play, "Boyfight" by Haygen Brice Walker, takes a modern day, baseball cap-wearing Peter, still refusing to grow up, and contrasts him with two other children who never had the chance to grow up Anne Frank and JonBenet Ramsay. It's rather heavy-handed in its attempts to seem edgy (especially the peculiar sex and drug references in the scenes between JonBenet and her mother Patty), and the parallels the play makes aren't smooth ones. Director Brey Ann Barrett establishes an ethereal mood successfully, but makes things more difficult by staging about a third of the scenes in the theatre's right aisle, making it impossible for those of us sitting on the left to see anything. (What is it with Fringe shows and bad sightlines?)
Act two, "Neverman" by Brian Clores, is as literal-minded as "Boyfight" is fanciful. "Neverman" chronicles Barrie's life, following him from his miserable (and apparently celibate) marriage to the fascination with local children that led to Peter's creation. We even get some flashbacks to his childhood; the actress playing his wife switches mid-scene to playing his mother, which should give you an idea of the play's level of insight into what made Barrie tick. It's all a bit stodgy, so the play tries to shock us with nudity (in a scene ripped right out of Angels in America) and a bunch of profanity that doesn't sound remotely credible from characters in 1904. Brianne Shaw directs.
Nightmares in Neverland might have worked better if the order of the plays had been reversed, letting Peter (and the audience) soar a bit in the second act instead of ending the evening with a by-the-numbers account of Barrie's stilted and earthbound life. Technical aspects are strong, especially Amanda Jensen's ghostly lighting, and there are strong performances from Jenna Kuerzi as Anne Frank and Sarah Kirk as the two Mrs. Barries.
Nightmares in Neverland runs through September 22, 2014, and is presented as part of the 2014 Fringe Festival at Studio X, 1340 South 13th Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are available at www.FringeArts.com.