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Peter Panâ’€’¦ a horror story?

by Lenise Willis

Dark shadows, ominous whisperings and blood drippingfrom the walls are not the typical images that Peter Panresurrects in one’s mind. But with a little creativityand a lot of childlike imagination, No Rules TheatreCompany managed to turn the classic childhood fantasy into anightmare.

The use of the word “nightmare” by no means implies a horrifi c orterrible performance; instead, it applauds the company’s ability to beable to pull off such an odd twist on a story.For more than a century, the eternal child of JM Barrie’s originalPeter and Wendy has roamed the alleys of our imaginations, bringingto life the typical childhood fantasies of mermaids, pirates and fairies.

But in the adaptation Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers,Michael Huberes’ retelling of Pan’s story does not stop at the brightlylit surface of a happy fantasy. Instead, it delves into Barrie’s darkunderlying questions and analysis. Why is it that Pan and the lostboys never grow up? What is Pan’s motivation for running away?Why does he hate adulthood? Is Neverland our imagination, a state ofmind, a longing… or some form of afterlife?The fi rst scene of the play immediately sets the tone for a broodingperformance.

The lights go dark and ghostlike whisperings command,“Come away” and “Go away.” Only the characters’ mysterioussilhouettes are visible at fi rst.Carrie Wood’s lighting plays a large role in creating the mood andatmosphere of the play, as it is the driving force behind both the playfuland menacing shadows that dance on stage. At a moment’s notice,a change in the lighting can turn the set from a happy, innocentmemory to a distressing realization.The most noteworthy aspect is the set itself, designed by ScenicDesigner Daniel Pinha. A worn, hardwood fl oor lies beneath the typicaltoys and furniture of a 20th century child’s bedroom.

The entire play takes place on the bedroom set and the characters— children at play — use the bedroom furniture to create the scenesin Neverland. Even during intermission, the actors return to the stagein character and play pretend to rearrange the furniture as necessary.A bed frame becomes a ship. A bed, dresser and blanket become ahouse.But just as the storyline has mysteries revealed, so does the set.Small sections of the stage fl oor are removed at times to expose asmall pond, the foliage of wilderness or even a small grave.

The backwall, covered in peeling wallpaper, has hidden doors and windowsthat allow characters to escape into a starry night or climb up, liedown and pretend to fl y. The biggest surprise is when a light hits thewall and reveals once-hidden blood stains.The actors do a wonderful job in creating a playful, childlikeatmosphere. The key is having big ideas with a simple execution. Forexample, in order to fl y the actors simply raise their arms and standupon their toes to give the illusion of a child pretending to fl y aroundtheir bedroom.

Tricks, wires and gizmos are not needed.Megan Graves gives an outstanding performance as Wendy. Gravesis able to fuse both the playfulness of a little girl with the intensity ofa worried, pretend mother. Her voice and distinct British annunciationcommands attention, and even after the play, my memory carriedaway some of her lines and replayed them throughout the evening.Her energetic bounce and dainty gestures, such as sitting on theedge of the bed with her toes pointed and dangling, had me doublechecking the playbill for her age.

Yes, she is an adult with a bachelor’sin fi ne arts.John Evans Reese, on the other hand, brings a savage Peter Pan tothe stage. His performance, fi lled with graceless stomping, remindsthe audience that boys typically play rough and their imaginationscreate much more menacing characters and circumstances, such asfi ghting a pirate to the death.Adam Downs, who plays Tootles and Smee, provides the necessarycomic relief that balances the play’s intertwining of a playful fantasy witha sinister approach. His joyful expressions and high-pitched exclamationsremind the audience of the enthusiasm and hilarity of children.

Overall, the performance is original, shocking and even a little disturbing,but can certainly be appreciated for its unique and thoughtprovokingform. Without a doubt, it’s an entirely new experience forthe audience.

wanna go?No Rules Theatre Company performs Peter Pan: The Boy WhoHated Mothers at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem, Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 with an extra 12 p.m.performance on Thursday. Play suggested for ages 10 and up.Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information call 336.722.8348or visit www.norulestheatre.org/shows/peter-pan.

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