Not growing up at the Redhouse

Wendy (Sara Weiler) and John (Jason Belanger) dance over London in 'Peter Pan.' Photo: Teri Dobrzynski Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up Who Redhouse Arts Center Where 201 S. West St. Syracuse When Through May 11 Tickets $20; $15 for members Review by Eesha Patkar

Ever since time immemorial (or just the 20th century, really), an impudent little boy with a fondness for flying and the color green has stubbornly insinuated himself in our collective imagination.

J.M. Barrie’s most famous creation Peter Pan, or the boy who had psychologically manifesting physical problems with growing up, is an unquestionable part of our childhood. He first appeared on stage in a play titled Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up in 1904, followed by a novel in 1911.

On May 2, The Redhouse Arts Center began its run of a colorfully adapted version of this play as rewritten by British playwrights John Caird and Trevor Nunn in 1997. This production, in partnership with the ARC of Onondaga foundation, carries a cast of skilled professional actors working alongside talented actors with developmental and physical disabilities. This wonderful initiative undertaken by Redhouse provides a unique platform for individuals with developmental difficulties to show off their acting chops.

The story of Peter Pan (played in this production by high school sophomore Jamaal Wade) and Wendy Darling (Sara Weiler) is a well-known one. The children of the Darling household fall asleep each night to the lovely bedtime stories told by their mother, under the watchful eye of their Newfoundland dog Nana. Unbeknownst to them, Peter Pan — entranced by those tales — stalks their window night after night hoping to retell them to his troop of Lost Boys back in his underground home in the magical Neverland. Mrs. Darling (Binaifer Dabu), suspicious and anxious, discovers poor Pan and steals his shadow. Consequently, Mr. Darling (Jordan Glaski), controlling and neurotic and possibly unhinged, exchanges harsh words with everyone one fateful night and locks the four-legged nurse/caretaker/human-trapped-in-a-canine-body Nana out in the cold.

With no Nana to stop them and parents out on the town, the Darling children Wendy, John (Jason Belanger), Michael (David Cotter) and Michael’s stuffed bear become susceptible to Peter Pan’s fanciful charms and boasts of flying, mermaids and pirates. Soon they’re all off on an adventure in the deep, mysterious forests of Neverland, with danger at the helm of a sea-pirate named Capt. Hook (also played by Glaski).

After several abductions and trickery contained in five acts, normalcy is restored — almost. Pan still abhors growing up, but the Darlings and the lost boys return to civilization where their childish innocence is chipped away as the growing pains of adulthood inevitably strike. Sad, but at least no pirates, right?

This Redhouse production adopts several traditional elements of the original play, some welcome while others painfully outdated. The use of a narrator, missing in the many versions of the Peter Pan that exist in its cumulative history, is faithfully enacted here by Todd Quick who threads together a delightful narrative bringing the physical landscape of the play alive. Glaski delivers the dual antagonistic roles of Mr. Darling and Capt. Hook humorously, striking an easy balance between them.

The cast of 'Peter Pan' at the Redhouse.  Photo: Teri Dobrzynski

Wade’s lithe grace is striking in his performance of Pan, and Weiler’s Wendy hits just the right amount of exaggerated earnestness and girlish emotion. Together the two display an amusing chemistry with their prepubescent portrayal of puppy love.

Despite the ample choice of contenders for the winning performance, it’s Marc Galvagno’s role as Tootles that will win the crowd. Nervous, shy and endearing, Galvagno’s depiction of the Lost Boy is true to character and just like I always imagined him to be.

Also remarkable is the fluid transformation of the set design cleverly crafted by Tim Brown, easily sailing through the various scenes of London and Neverland. Tinkerbell, only played as a real character in the Disney movies, is recreated as a funky mix of stage lights and cellular phone ringtones (making the standard issued warning to switch off your handheld device doubly important here).

The Redhouse delivers this age-old story of innocence and wonder with enough entertainment to engage children and adults alike.