Asheville – The delightfully dark story is, of course, based on J.M. Barrie’s work, but it’s much more. Skyler Goff and Lilly Mills have created the perfect offering for the audiences at this free outdoor theater.
The mix of wonder and humor, farce, and deeper themes makes this a tale that will keep you guessing, even though you think you know it by heart.
Also ingenious is the structure. Often, families bring small children, leaving at intermission because the little ones are tired. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the first half is marvelous for a younger audience while still being interesting and appealing for the rest of us. The high-energy slapstick and Kristi DeVille’s superbly choreographed dance and fight sequences will captivate all ages.
After the families scoot off with their youngsters, the show arcs into the darker aspects of Neverland. While the second half is incredibly funny, it’s also tumultuous and tender. Filled with anger and love, it required tissues at times.
I love when a play has that vertical zigzag effect. Those highs punctuate the lows, which in turn makes the next bit of humor more funny than the last.
Skyler Goff’s adaptation has some essential diversions from J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play. Importantly, the removal of bigoted stereotyping of Native Americans. Goff has replaced them with powerful druids. A magical race devoted to the island and all its inhabitants.
Also gone is the reductive representation of mothers. I feel certain Barrie was not maliciously portraying mothers (and females in general) as individuals whose sole purpose is to be caregivers. I think he intended it to be high praise. However, that convention, often found in stories for children, has become pervasively systemic.
To fully rectify this damaging issue, Goff made some important changes to the dialogue and then turned his script over to co-director and intimacy coordinator Lilly Mills for her edits.
Wanting to be thorough, he then gave the script to Ashleigh Goff, who is also the creator of the impressive costumes. In addition to those tasks, Ashleigh Goff was cast as adult “Nurse Wendy,” a part she thoroughly owns with her compassion and unanticipated playfulness.
In 1912, a statue of Peter Pan was unveiled in London’s Kensington Gardens. Barrie was disappointed in the creation because “it doesn’t show the devil in Peter.” I believe Barrie would love Goff’s adaptation. These characters are deviously delightful.
Elias Hamilton’s Peter Pan is deftly self-centered while also being endearing. His sprite-like mannerisms offset his warrior actions and keep us guessing what he will do next.
In reflection of him, Ronnie Z. Nielsen’s Wendy offers sweetness and logic, surprising us with moments of fortitude and courage. Nielsen also has the opportunity to sing, and their lovely voice is truly a gift to us all.
For roughly a decade, it has been a dream of Rachel Fralick’s to don the curly wig and fabulous coat of Captain Hook. Fralick’s smarmy, sarcastic, and egotistically comical representation made Hook much more than a villain.
Gaia Eggert gives us a spunky, deadpan Tiger Lilly, whose fearlessness is only matched by the Druid’s intelligent inventfulness. In this reimagining of a formerly problematic character, we are reminded that a true friend is one who gives us boundaries and helps us be a better person.
It wouldn’t be Peter Pan without Tinkerbell, and Charlie Mae’s take on this iconic fairy is imaginative and, at times, scene-stealing. Performed entirely in pantomime, Mae personifies the jealous, diabolical nature of Tink with mischievous charisma and charm.
The cast is large. From Lost Boys to Druids to Pirates, there are 22 actors on stage, sometimes playing multiple parts. I loved them all, and I wish I had the space to highlight each of them individually.
This was truly a magical experience for me and the 419 other people who showed up on opening night, and every person involved with this production is responsible for bewitching us.
Wendy & Peter runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through June 17th. The show does have trigger warnings and very dark moments, so please keep that in mind if you are bringing young children.