To me, Peter Pan has always been a stage play that was first videotaped in the 1950s and rebroadcast around Christmas off and on through my childhood years. The film starred icons of theater who I’m not going to mention because you’ve never heard of them giving delicious performances that I’m not going to describe because it was sixty years ago and mostly black and white and boy do I feel old.
Which brings us to this weekend’s production of Peter Pan by the students of Long Trail School, in Dorset, VT. Since today’s, Saturday’s, performance looks like it is going to be snowed out, here is a review for those of you who won’t get to see the show.
I attended the Friday night performance, enjoying the comfort and ambiance of the elegant Long Trail Theater along with an almost full house. To find a theater of this magnificence in the midst of the Green Mountains of Vermont in the tiny town of Dorset AT A SCHOOL is a reflection on the excellence of the program–an excellence that was on exhibit at first glance of the program, where, it is explained, some 40 (perhaps 37 in the event) students, from grades 4 to 12, would shortly be on stage. Catch ’em young.
The curtain went up on a minimalist Darling Nursery set: a couple of beds and Nana’s kennel, a chair for Mrs. Darling to fall asleep in and a trunk for Tink to get trapped in against black curtains (set by Technical Director Dave Wesley and team). The minimalist theme continued throughout the show, making this audience member realize what a tough, tough show this was for the cast. The script used is “a new version by John Caird and Trevor Nunn,” but all of the famous dialogue associated with the story is there intact. The cast was thus tasked with bringing Neverland alive with their words alone and a very few props (I honestly can’t recall anything but swords). No small achievement in any theater–would they be up to it?
Boy were they ever. Leads Olivia Lane and Louis Bronson as Wendy and Peter were both captivating. For me, seeing these familiar characters played by actors of the right age was enlightening. Olivia hit every emotional beat in the black, making her Wendy a real girl and the focal point of the show. Even when her dialogue got a bit silly (as much of the dialogue in this show is), she was in character, three-dimensional, an believable. Louis was particularly good in Act 2, expressing both Peter’s total misery and then his youthful ability to forget (the cruelest cut of all).
Isaiah Barnard was literally larger than life, kitted out in full Captain Hook outfit and appearing to be a foot taller than anyone else on the stage. Of all the characters in Peter Pan, Hook is the most famous and the most broadly drawn. Isaiah was more than up for the challenge, the perfect leader for his band of incompetent pirates (they sing a scary song every time they are about to attack, thus announcing their presence and cuing the lost boys and the Ginjuns to escape). A Peter’s antagonist, Hook must also be realistically threatening, and Isaiah was well up to that task. Sophie Spiro as Tinkerbell set the standard for scene stealing (an activity that in this play is the name of the game). I had no problem thinking of her as faerie (helped by the fact that she is indeed a tiny girl), and her Wendy-jealousy was likewise genuine and hilarious. Will Giering and Anna Pace as Wendy’s brothers were both spot-on, portraying their change from beloved sons to lost boys with remarkable clarity. Hannah Phelps was funny and slightly terrifying as the funny and slightly terrifying Tiger Lily. She was also very effective when providing narration, which she did with clarity and interest, in find storyteller fashion. Andrea Ameden lost-boy Curly was also excellent when performing her narrative duties—and a laugh riot in her eager, perpetually excited lost-boy persona. Rebecca Van Burken and Kit Lefevre played Mrs. and Mr. Darling very sweetly. Rebecca looked an acted the part of Mother with uncanny accuracy (she is a sophomore), and Kit handled Mr. Darling’s self-imposed relocation into the dog kennel with killing humility.
Tip of the hat to the ambitious lighting design [by ???], which included follow spot, black light, and numerous black outs, to portray flying, Peter’s shadow, and scene changes. Kudos also to Isaiah and Louis (credited as Fight Coordinator) for their thrilling climactic fight scene, which pretty much stole the show. Other scene stealers were the resident animals: Nana was hilarious (her bark was uncannily realistic) and the crocodile was amazing (where did that terrific costume come from???)
Final kudos for Director Tracey Wesley, who once again challenges the kids of Long Trail to be fearless and funny and—yes—good. It was clear that the various actors were encouraged to explore their own talents—as this show allows them to do. As a result, the show was fresh and funny, an ensemble performance of distinctive performances. It made me feel young again.