“Neverland” at Prop Thtr reimagines the landscape of its fantasy world not as an eternal playland, but as an endless nightmare. Peter Pan and his crew of Lost kids are no longer innocents to be celebrated in this piece, but terrors to be fought against, and warnings devised to make an impact on the audience.
Peter Pan (Gaby Labotka) is at first presented as we often see him — saving rejected or lost children, and bringing them to Neverland to play all day and never grow old. Hook (Kate Black-Spence) is a woman in this telling, whose hand was chopped off by Peter and thrown to the island’s crocodile. When Peter brings Wendy (Valeria Rosero), a contemporary young woman from Mexico, to Neverland, the story shifts to her perspective. Wendy sees that the Lost and Tinkerbell (Mary Iris Loncto) might not be as loyal to Peter as they seem, and that Peter’s dictatorial demands over his charges may need to be stopped.
Director Olivia Lilley and the cast and part of the design team devised this drama through a months-long rehearsal process that resulted in a wide reshaping of the Peter Pan mythology as we know it. Familiar elements are twisted, political revolution is introduced, and heretofore unseen sympathy for Hook is developed. Taken all together, these changed elements create a kind of frenzied emphasis on backstory that I’m not sure tracks one hundred percent for the audience. I found myself halfway through the play wondering whose journey we were on — Peter’s, Hook’s, or Wendy’s. The point is likely that we are meant to see their story as a trio of perspectives, but with so much of the past being brought into the present onstage, it is hard to follow what is most important towards the end of the play.
The performers, to a person, are all entertaining and grounded. Rosero provides great incredulity as the newest member of the Lost, and Labotka fuels Peter with an infectious energy that can easily turn to something darker when needed. Spence does a lot with the simplest gesture, and her quiet sorrow complicates the hero-antagonist dynamic in surprising ways. Loncto does a good job controlling Tinkerbell’s soundscape, but acting as a semi-manifestation of the petulant fairy.
And despite the script confusion, the theatricality on display in “Neverland” is joyous, and always engaging. Scenic designer Nina D’Angier creates the impression of Hook’s ship with sail cloth and a variety of ladders and ropes; the same elements create houses for the Lost and the waves of the ocean. Lighting designer Benjamin Carne evokes the dreaminess of spaces on land and sea, and takes part in the cool effect of having characters grasp onto Tinkerbell using their own personal flashlights. Ele Matelan’s Foley design brings delight and immediacy to every onstage moment, whether it’s actors creating a thunderstorm using hand clapping and stomping feet, or Loncto expressing annoyance through the banging of spoons.
“Neverland” definitely asks a lot of its audience, but also rewards the viewers with a delightful cast of characters and theatrical elements. If you want to see Peter Pan from a new angle, this is the show for you.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: What if Peter Pan meant something completely different to us?
DIE RATING: d10 — “Worth Going To”
Venue: Prop Thtr (3502 N Elston Ave)