Sunday, May 5, 2013

Peter Pan the Boy Who Hated Mothers – by Michael Lluberes

L - R - Jackson Evans, Amy Lawhorn, Benjamin Campbell, Trisha LaFache, David Hemphill

By Joe Straw

Waiting outside The Blank Theatre before the performance, in the cool breezy Hollywood air, somewhere between dusk and twilight, I saw a boy (a man) running west along the theatres on Santa Monica Boulevard and across Wilcox Avenue. 

 He leapt upon the curb next to the theatre. It was a small leap, yet so light, as though he was picked up by the wind. An aeolian creature captured like a still photograph, a fragmental moment in time.   His hair was brown and curly, his jaw straight, his leg extended toward the curb and he was wearing brown flying boots.  And as suddenly as he was there, he was gone, disappeared by a distraction. 

And I said to myself that was Peter Pan!  - Narrator

Mrs. Darling (Trisha LaFache) was not a happy woman.  She was melancholy, dolorous, lachrymose, heavyhearted, and without a doubt, disconcerted.  Her reasons were understandable, she had just lost her infant son Michael and, though plagued by distractions, she was gathering the initiative and a moment to find a time and place for his burial. On her knees, she opened her chest, a heavenly light exploded and enveloped her, and she reached in and carefully took out her deceased child, Michael, wrapped in swaddling clothes.  

The children were concerned, as they should be.  But Wendy (Liza Burns), the older child, took more of the moment to heart. John (Benjamin Campbell) was nervous about his mother and the effect it had on her. But really, who can guess what’s going on in the mind of children at a time like this?

Mrs. Darling took her lifeless child and carefully placed him under a crawl space and into the ground. Our story is set in an earlier time, when one could do things like that without repercussions from the law.   

Mrs. Darling, sans Mr. Darling, turns to her surviving children, gives them their medicine, twists on the gas nightlights (the protective eyes of parents when they are not there) but does not tell them a story this night. She solemnly instructs them to say their prayers, which they do, but they keep one eye open as they watch their mother walk up to the ledge of the window, ready to jump, faint, or fall.

The Blank Theatre, Daniel Henning Founding Artistic Director and Noah Wyle Artistic Producer presents Peter Pan:  The Boy Who Hated Mothers written by Michael Lluberes, based on “Peter & Wendy” by J.M. Barrie and directed by Michael Matthews. “Peter Pan…” awakens all we know about this fantasy and brings our childhood imaginations back to life with a wonderful retelling of this classic tale.  Going will be one more day to lift your spirits and one more chance to bring Tinker Bell back to life. Let your swirling imagination soar and watch the fantasy come back into your being.  Run to see this production before the last light dims.  

Wendy had heard stories of Peter Pan (Daniel Shawn Miller) although she had not met him.  And it was for this reason she slept lightly, waiting. But, thoughts of death and mental anguish tire the weary soul and Wendy falls asleep. 

Natheless, life has a way of lifting your spirits and Peter senses this when he swoops into Wendy's bedroom late that night. And, whether is was intentional or not, the racket Peter was making, finding his shadow, was enough to wake the dead.   

But, oddly enough, it was on this night from her bed; Wendy awoke only hearing the lonely sobs of a young boy.

“Boy, why are you crying?” – Wendy

It was a terrible time for Peter to lose his shadow and that nasty Tinker Bell (Amy Lawhorn) was not helping one bit. But Wendy was there to sew it back on much to Peter Pan’s delight and Tinker Bell’s aggravation.

A delightfully shadowed Peter, eager for another adventure, sees the advantage of having a mother.

“One girl is better than twenty boys.” – Peter Pan

Wendy is immediately caught off guard and in a moment breathless.  Peter asks Wendy to leave her mother and come to Neverland enticing her with mermaids.  And to get John enthusiastic he tells him there are pirates there. (Pirates!) And with the help of exuberant imagination, and Tinker Bell’s fairy dust, they fly off to Neverland.

“Second to the right and straight on till morning.” – Peter

But Neverland is filled with dirty little boys Tootles (Jackson Evans), Slightly (David Hemphill) and Nibbs (Amy Lawhorn) who are in constant battles with Captain Hook (also, Trisha LaFache).  Without Peter Pan they are no match for the deadly Captain Hook. It is a miserable life for which the Lost Boys have to be on constant guard. And so they flee.

And although Captain Hook scours the island for the boys he must also be on guard for the ticking clock and the alligator that drives him stark, raving, mad. It was not long ago he was equally fond of his right hand, now missing, thanks to Peter and the crocodile.   But when he hears the ticking, he abandons his objective for the souls of dirty little boys.  

With Captain Hook out of the way, the boys come out of hiding.  Tinker Bell arrives and tells the Lost Boys that Wendy is coming.  She says that Peter Pan commands them to kill Wendy when she arrives.  And so Tootles shoots her with a bow and arrow. The arrow cuts through the air reaching the heart of its intended victim, Wendy is thrown from her lofty perch, and falls lifelessly to the soft earth of Neverland.

This show features an exciting cast of fresh new faces and is wonderfully directed by Michael Matthews.

Front Row L - R Trisha LaFache, Liza Burns, AmyLawhorn
Back Row L - R David Hemphill, Daniel Shawn Miller, Jackson Evans, Benjamin Evans

Liza Burns plays Wendy Darling and is terrific in his role. She is young enough to play Wendy and gives the character multiple layers. One minute she is young child saying prayers, the next a young sexual being fantasizing, and next a mother to the Lost Boys. She handles the role marvelously.  And I particularly liked the sewing scene and her ability to completely pull that off.  She is an extraordinary actress with breathtaking moments and I hope to see more of her in the future.

Daniel Shawn Miller plays Peter Pan and he was the gentleman flying outside on Santa Monica Boulevard.  This is a physically demanding role for Miller and he handles the role aptly. Not to take away from anyone else but it is refreshing to have a man play the role of Peter Pan. Miller succeeds wonderfully in capturing the prepubescent innocence of a young male who is not able to grasp the advances of his counterpart. Also, knowing that if he does, he cannot remain a boy forever. Miller is marvelous.

Trisha LaFache is a stunning specimenShe is Mrs. Darling and Captain Hook and had many unexpected incredible moments. Her Hook represents the darker side of human thoughts.  And is a role which one can’t be too evil throughout.  LaFache had some really nice turn of phrases in her delivery that I found incredibly exciting and funny. The trick to this portrayal is latching on to a moment that finds the similarities between Mrs. Darling and Captain Hook and finding that core that rings a specific truth to both characters when all is said and done.  Still, all in all, wonderfully done.

Benjamin Campbell plays John Darling has a remarkable face and appears to have stepped out of a Disney film. Campbell is excellent and, while rather large for a young male, brings his own truth to the role. Also, he does yeoman’s work performing sound effects and playing drums high up in the rafters.

Jackson Evans plays the not so smart Tootles and the pirate Smee. Evans handles his roles remarkable, and has an astonishing craft, and an incredible face to go with that craft.  Funny and evil all in one breath, Evans makes going to the theatre a remarkable experience.

David Hemphill plays Slightly and Starkey and has a commanding stage presence. There is a lot of truth to his work and a lot more roles to be played.

Amy Lawhorn plays Nibbs, Bill Jukes, Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell (although she is not given credit in the program).  She is an incredible actress with a very wide range and a remarkable presence on stage. She is a brilliant actress who makes her delivery and objective simple and clear.   

Michael Matthews, the director, does an incredible job filling every inch of space at The Blank Theatre with magnificent creative energy. There are no wires or rigging in this small, black box, theatre yet you believe that children can fly.  Tinker Bell is wonderfully captured and it is hard to believe there were no collisions on this particular night.  There is an incredible scene after Tinker Bell drinks the poison – out of the darkness comes the voice of reason, life and truth. Simply, marvelous. But, there’s a lot more to Matthews’s direction. The intangibles that guide actors into giving their all with relationships, characters, and objectives, the simple things that give a show dramatic heartfelt truth. And, with all the awards in theatre recently, what is the next step?

The writer, Michael Lluberes, gives us a slightly different version of Peter Pan, which follows what I remember of the story. I think this version is wonderfully suited for ages 9 to 90 and encourage everyone to run to see this production.

Ruth Connell, Noah Khyle, Christina Jun, Henry Alberto, Jonas Dickson, Elle Johnson, and Royce Johnson are covers for this production and did not perform on this night but will be given an opportunity later on in the run.

The wonderful producers of this show are Sarah A. Bauer, Matthew Graber, Daniel Henning, Stephen Moffatt, and Noah Wyle.

The Associate Producers are Dawn Davis, Emily Mae Heller, Evan Martinez, and Noelle Toland.

The Lighting Design was by Tim Swiss & Zack Lipinski.  Rebecca Kessin provided the Sound Design.

The magical Set Design was by Mary Hamrick.

The Costume Design, by Kellsy MacKilligan was wonderfully thought out emphasizing embonpoint for the women, and extreme characterization for the Lost Boys.

The Property Design was by Michael O’Hara.  Stage Manager/Assistant director is Rebecca Eisenberg.  Assistant Stage Manager is Jillian Mayo and the Dialect Coach is Coco Kleppinger.

Sondra Mayer’s work was exceptional as the Fight Choreographer.  The fencing was extraordinary.

Casting Directors, Erica Silverman & Cara Chute, must be commended for their outstanding work.

And Ken Werther Publicity aptly provides the Public Relation. 

Very nice Production photos by Mary Ann Williams.  

Run! Run! Run and take a friend that needs a jolt to their imaginative spirit.

The Blank's 2nd Stage Theatre
6500 Santa Monica Boulevard
(at Wilcox)
Hollywood 90038


Twitter @TheBlankTheatre

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