Peter & Wendy
From the novel by J.M. Barrie
Adapted by Liza Lorwin
Music by Johnny Cunningham
April 27 through June 24, 2007
Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater. Washington D.C.
Karen Kandel as The Narrator shares a moment with Peter. Photo: Scott Suchman.
Thank God not all puppet shows are for children. Those who are young at heart might want to partake of Peter & Wendy, a production by the experimental theater troupe Mabou Mines and currently running in Washington, DC at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater. This is not to say that this version of Neverland about the boy who didn’t want to grow up is perfect, but certain aspects of this show, especially the remarkable performance of Karen Kandel as the narrator and all the voices of puppet characters, merit applause.
For those adults who grew up with the story of Peter Pan which has been adapted for the stage and screen many times, including the Broadway musical version starring Mary Martin, Liza Lorwin’s adaptation is comfortably familiar. What Lorwin emphasizes is the loss of childhood and the darker side of aging. The original music by the late Johnny Cunningham with its pleasing Celtic inflection provides a wistfully melancholic mood.
At first glimpse, the choreographed handling of each Banraku puppet by several puppeteers dressed and veiled in all-white costumes is fascinating. However, like Noh drama, a viewer quickly acclimates to the dance movements of the trio of puppeteers and one longs for more action. The most interesting puppets are Nana, the dog, and Hook’s crocodile that is Nana outfitted with the long snout of the hungry croc. The best puppet scene is set to the song “The Crocodile Tango.”
Mabou Mines also provide shadow puppetry done in the tradition of Wayang Kulit, a form of classical Javanese puppet drama. The variety of puppets some like Peter, Wendy, her brother, Captain Hook, which are standard representational figures (they look like what we expect) to the abstract fluttering of scarves and the shadow puppetry, provide an awesome museum of figures.
That one actor, Karen Kandel, can handle all the text of all the puppet characters and also provide the ongoing narration is exceptional. How does she do it? For the narration, she looks straight ahead at the audience but for the speech of puppet characters, she turns to the puppet so that audience attention goes to the puppet that is suppose to be speaking. Sometimes what happens on stage seems like an extraneous riff of improvisation. Take for example when Kandel becomes an old woman with a cane. Kandel’s transformation is deeply fascinating, but it’s probably scenes like this that make the two-and-a–half-hour production too long.
Karren L. Alenier