'Peter Pan' doesn't soar

December 09, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

J. M. Barrie's classic 1904 play, "Peter Pan," need not necessarily be just for kids. But the production at Olney Theatre Center essentially is.

Although the play has some intriguing adult themes -- intriguing enough to have had psychological syndromes named for them -- Olney's production just hasn't grown up. Director Jim Petosa seems to have cartoons in mind, not literature, judging from the overly broad portrayals he elicits from most of the pirates, not to mention his retention of the politically incorrect "ugh-ugh-wah!" lingo of the Indians.

There are some lovely elements, however. Conrad Feininger's Captain Hook is as charming as he is evil. (In one especially nice touch, he replaces his fearsome hook with a prosthesis fitted out with a dainty china teacup). As his second in command, Brad Alan Waller's Smee is every bit as lovable as Hook complains he is.

And as Wendy, Michael and John, the three Darling children, Carolyn Pasquantonio, Lee Hagy and Roger Kraus certainly deserve their characters' surname.

But then there's Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up. Instead of seeming youthful and clever, Jim Dubensky's Peter seems oafish and dull -- so much so that it's difficult to understand what Wendy sees in him. (Her amorous intentions are one of the rare adult themes this production does accentuate.)

In fairness, I must say Dubensky's portrayal didn't bother my 7-year-old companion, who enjoyed himself, though he was rightfully troubled by a few other things.

Dan Conway's set design, for instance, does not make neat, or in some cases even logical, transformations from nursery to Neverland to pirate ship. In the big battle aboard the ship, more than a few combatants seem to be walking on water. And the staging of Captain Hook's eventual fate makes no sense -- unless this fierce pirate suddenly develops a death wish.

Olney originally planned to produce the musical version of "Peter Pan" last spring. But an inspection of the roof in preparation for the show's aerial effects revealed a structural fracture. The repairs delayed the show, which was re-scheduled for the current holiday slot. In the interim, however, Olney lost the production rights to the musical, which Cathy Rigby is taking out again on a national tour (it comes to the Mechanic Theatre in March).

It's interesting -- and fairly unusual -- to see the play that was the source for the much more famous musical. And director Petosa's cuts in the script are, for the most part, welcome in these modern times, when children's attention spans seem to grow ever shorter.

But the production definitely needs more oomph. The songs might have helped. As it is, the actors may be airborne, but the production as a whole never really takes flight.

'Peter Pan'

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Route 108, Olney

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 7: 30 p.m. Sundays; matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays, most Saturdays and Dec. 23, Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 (no performances Dec. 24-25). Through Jan. 4

Tickets: $10-$32

Call: 301-924-3400

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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