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Jefferson Elementary School’s “Peter Pan” an Abomination
A quality production of Peter Pan is pure magic. The bittersweet story of a boy who can’t – or won’t – grow up and the young siblings who accompany him to the dreamlike world of Neverland is a work which, adapted with the appropriate dedication and professionalism, enchants audiences young and old with its fantastical tale, dazzles their eyes with its brilliant sets, and stirs their spirits by reminding them of the power of their own imaginations.
What I witnessed in the “Wildcat Theatre” (as it was dubbed on the flimsy hand folded program I was handed as I entered the drab, boxy, flat floored venue lined with metal folding chairs) of Jefferson Elementary School this past Monday night however was not magic. It was something else. Whatever the opposite of magic is, I suppose that was what it was. I was not enchanted, my eyes went quite undazzled, and the only thing that was stirred was my stomach as the assault this “play” made on my various senses almost had the cumulative effect of inducing me to lose the Rice Krispie square and fruit punch (nice touch there – very sophisticated) I choked down during intermission.
Truly, this was by far a performance only a parent or close family member, which judging from the crowd there were an abundance of in attendance that night, could appreciate on any level whatsoever. Think I’m exaggerating or giving into my wounded sense of refined theatrical taste’s impulse to exaggerate or hyperbolize? Allow me to elaborate.
As the curtain parted, the first thing that struck me was the ridiculousness of the set pieces. Even the most pedestrian theatre patron realizes that by helping to persuade the audience to suspend their sense of disbelief and allowing them to be transported to that other place and time, quality scenery plays an integral part of selling the story of any production. Sadly however, whether out of a frugal bottom line interest to maximize profits from the snack bar by skimping on such crucial elements, this production failed miserably in this regard. Scenery was conveyed with cheap props such as inflatable drug store palm trees and crate paper landscape backdrops which appeared to have been painted by seven year olds. Honestly, during Peter’s final confrontation with Captain Hook I didn’t know whether they were on the deck of a pirate ship or outside a garment factory. Furthermore, the stagecraft was enough to make the late Peter Foy roll over in his grave; for instance, the actors “flew” to Neverland by flapping their arms and running around the stage crying, “I’m flying! I’m flying!” Please.
Was this meant to be some kind of kitsch satire? I wondered in the beginning, but if it was, I for one missed the humor.
Besides being conspicuously short (a fact that, in retrospect, could be viewed as merciful), expurgated such that many essential scenes were flagrantly absent, those that were played out were plagued by costuming and acting so poor that the whole spectacle careened violently between the realms of the tragically and laughably ludicrous without spending much time in between. For example, shortly after the girl who played Wendy left the stage in tears after forgetting her lines for the umpteenth time, the young boy cast as the crocodile elicited wild laughter from the crowd when he emerged dressed in green pants and a green t-shirt with an inflatable alligator mask over his head and began chasing the play’s Captain Hook (a handicapped child in a wheelchair who didn’t require a prop for his hand and couldn’t act his way out of a bag) back and forth across the stage screaming, “I love to eat pirates - get in my belly!”
In conclusion I must confess however that upon its conclusion the performance received a thundering standing ovation, so who’s to say? I don’t know, maybe it’s me who’s lost his mind, but either way, this is no longer a world in which I wish to live. Farewell
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