Peter Pan Soars at the Alley
If perhaps I'm slightly out of sorts, it might be because I can't quite manage to stay in my desk chair. I seem to be somewhat hovering above it, or around it, but not quite in it. It's the queerest sort of floating.
Jann Whaley Jay Sullivan as Peter Pan in the Alley Theatre's production of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, running now through October 31.
There's a strange dust wafting over me, too. A sparkly fine mist, but yet it doesn't make me sneeze. It buoys me up. Could it be? No, of course not, that's insane. What a thought.
Whoa, but there I go again. I'm two inches, at least, off the chair. I grab the armrests and pull myself back down to the desk. I brush myself off and settle in.
OK, I admit, I'm back from the Alley Theater where J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up just had its Houston premiere. It leaves one airborne. While it may not be the most magical of productions -- the flying is pretty ordinary and no one goes to any great lengths to hide the wiring -- the play itself is stuffed with magic and wonder. If there's any kid left in you, and I sincerely hope there is, then you should fly over and experience Barrie's perverse kind of merriment.
The original opened in London in 1904 as a kind of pantomime during the Christmas season. A "panto" (many are still performed at Christmas in England) is that peculiar form of kiddie entertainment that's a goofy vaudeville revue without the sexy smirk -- lots of scenery, special effects, songs and dances, men in drag, and women as boys. Fairy tales are a big hit. (Stages Rep has started a panto tradition every holiday. This year's is Pinocchio.) Barrie gave the world a panto without parallel, something that reached so far into his own psyche even he didn't know exactly what he had wrought. He gave the world a myth, dark and a little creepy to say the least, but a story that's as immortal as his lost little boy hero who refuses to grow up.
All his work deals in some way with men who aren't grownups, or with the dead coming back to seek their sons or to see what the world's like without them, and not being very happy about what they ultimate find. Yet his novels, plays, stories -- and very life -- are etched with an autumnal whimsy and overarching sadness that only Barrie could have created. Out of his hard-scrabble early life, he found immense fame and fortune (Peter Pan earned him countless thousands of pounds every year), but he had a horribly distorted marriage. He never, or wouldn't, or couldn't consummate his marriage, and perpetually lived as a boy with stoic, suffering wife Mary -- until she couldn't stand it any longer and found herself a lover, divorcing Barrie in a most un-Edwardian manner and airing his peculiarities in court, no less.