by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & or grown-ups, the world has become a habit; for kids, it's full of surprises. Director Bob Sembiante opens his playful/rapturous Peter Pan (through July 15 at Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre) with an unseen chorus singing a lullaby -- aimed at the adults in the audience -- called "Distant Melody." We need reminding about the world of those who'd prefer to be boys forever.
When it comes to James Barrie's fairy tale, middle-aged sensibilities have blinders on. Why not turn instead to well-respected authorities on the meaning and interpretation of Peter Pan? I'm talking, of course, about 9-year-old girls I watched the play with.
Why do kids always wish they were grown-ups?
"Kids feel pushed around."
But why do grown-ups often want to be kids again?
"Adults feel like they always have to work. They have no time to be with their friends." -- "Yeah, when you're a grown-up, you can't play -- you can only talk."
Sembiante's production doesn't waste time with a lot of talk. Pirates swagger through the aisles, whooping and shouting. During a number called "Ugh-a-wug," Indians and Lost Boys pound the stage with drumsticks, in unison. And in the title role, there's an active little pixie. Haley New Ostrander's performance features robust singing ("I'm Flying"), energetic roostering ("I Gotta Crow") and sprightly dancing ("Neverland," and throughout). Ostrander can belt out an inspiring song and appears fearless in mid-air. She may be the smallest of the orphans, but as their captain, the sheer exuberance of her manner commands both their obedience and the audience's sympathies.
And though the Lost Boys sometimes seem too cutesy, Sembiante keeps a light hand on the gender politics, even when Wendy abruptly starts longing for the woman-boy Peter.
As for ethnic politics, the treatment of Indians in this play is truly offensive -- in just the same way that depicting pirates as buffoons is an insult to the reputation of the world's many upstanding buccaneers. Because of this play's debasing portrayal of their lifestyle, brigands and bandits everywhere should be outraged.
Troy Wageman manages, though, to strike a nice balance in his dual roles -- sneering but not fearsome as Captain Hook ("the swiniest swine in the world"), yet not so cartoonish as to drain all the dignity out of his alter ego, Mr. Darling; he makes a couple of great bass-voiced entrances. Told about role-doublings, my little playgoing companions studied their programs and figured out all the instances of actors pulling double duty except for this, the most significant one. (So much for all that resentment-of-the-father Freudian claptrap.) At intermission, they grabbed those same programs, rolled them up into "swords" and engaged in some boisterous duelling.
With deep awareness, however, one girl expressed a full understanding of at least one adult emotion, the sexual jealousy between the two women in Peter's life. "If I were Tinkerbell," she said, "I'd put Wendy over shark-infested waters and watch her get all shredded up."
Well, then. So much for tender minds traumatized by implied violence. Despite the specters of being orphaned, growing older and fending off dangerous people in strange places, the CdA production "wasn't scary at all," the girls agreed. (As Hook's chief mate, Smee, Frank Jewett's hilarious 'fraidy-cat physical comedy might be termed "swish-buckling.")
Among the technical elements, the standouts are Michael McGiveney's sets (the Darlings' bedroom, the jungle, Maroon Rock, the Lost Boys' cave, the pirate ship), all rendered with comforting storybook stylization.
Peter Pan is a musical patchwork, with two composers, three lyricists and multiple versions over the years. Musical director Kasey R.T. Graham has reorchestrated some complicated music, and his 12-piece orchestra successfully navigates a variety of styles, from waltzes and tangos to rhythmic kids' songs, ballads and lullabies.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne of the my little playgoing companions had been having recurring dreams -- pleasant ones -- about flying above her school's playground. And were those dreams just like when Peter flies out above the audience?
"Yeah, just as nice. But without any ropes or anything. I could see the ropes." She also immediately identified Hook's nemesis, the crocodile, as "just a guy on a skateboard."
Coleridge gave it such a fancy name ("willing suspension of disbelief"). But to see the skateboard and yet still to believe -- kids have got it all over us adults when it comes to ignoring the glitches (and there was a major one at Sunday's matinee) and seeing through to the truth beyond.
Because Ostrander's first flying entrance as Peter Pan is breathtaking, as are the aerial maneuvers she performs during the final curtain call -- even when you know they're coming, even when you can see the skateboard.
If the kids next to us still believe, why not the kids inside us, too? Clap your hands, and we'll all find our way back to Neverland.