Sex, deceit, loss, regret; these probably aren’t the words you’d use to describe Peter Pan, but that’s because you haven’t seen Michael Lluberes’ “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers.” Full of heartbreak, anguish, seething sexuality and an incredible use of space and set design, this adaptation will not only blow you away, but yes, you’ll even leave the theatre believing in fairies.
Daniel Shawn Miller and Liza Burns (Peter and Wendy) absolutely transport you to Neverland, and though they’re playing children with no one but themselves to raise them, you see and feel the conflict and pain of their situation: two lost children playing pretend, older than their age lets on. Adults portray all of the characters, creating a beautifully complex tug-of-war with that thin line between childhood and adulthood. One minute, you’re looking at children playing make believe, and the next, you’re entirely engulfed in a love scene over the water, where these two children are more adult than you or I.
The play starts out with a beautifully dark lyrical dance piece, and we soon find out that the Darlings’ youngest child Michael passed away in infancy. That leaves Wendy and John Darling alone, two youngsters, to take care of their suicidal mother. Peter Pan soon arrives, taking Wendy and John to Neverland, the land of Lost Boys and make believe, where no one ever grows up.
While Wendy is more than happy to play Mother to the gang of Lost Boys, her patience soon wears thin as she and the rest of the gang encounter pirates, Indians, wild animals, jealousy and a number of other situations too intense for any child to handle. She gathers the troops and decides that they’re all going home – all that is, but Peter Pan.
It turns out Peter Pan was abandoned as a child and has resented his own mother, and all mothers, ever since then. He will never grow up and makes Wendy promise that she wouldn’t either. Wendy, however, is able to separate reality from make believe, and quickly moves on, leaving Peter Pan to fend for himself in Neverland. What ensues is a dramatic fight scene between Pan and Captain Hook, a devastating scene between Wendy and her mother, her children and her children’s children, and a culmination that works perfectly, but nevertheless, leaves you with a necessary sadness.
At times, it feels awkward watching these adults-playing-children engage in sexual scenes – although they’re never explicit. It creates a very perverted, almost incestuous feeling, but the discomfort of it all adds to the suspense and reality (these are adults, after all. Weren’t the real children in Neverland actually adults anyway?)
Peter can’t quite figure out the difference between a thimble a kiss, so Wendy tries to show him. Ultimately, theirs is a sweeter love; Wendy can feel her “body changing every moment, like water moving or rippling inside of [her].” Her feelings, much like that of being a mermaid, are “scary and wonderful all at the same time.”
Peter and Captain Hook’s relationship (Hook played by the terribly sexy blonde Trisha LaFache) is much more complex. Hook, fascinatingly played by a woman, dreams of Peter, eventually saying, “Little boy, you have no idea the feelings you stir in me!” He “molests her nose hairs,” and it makes her want to kill him.
Hook’s relationship with pirate hand Smee (Jackson Evans) is also disturbingly close, as he convincingly massages and even cleans her boots, doting after her longingly as she does nothing but dream of the day she’ll kill her beloved Peter Pan. The change in gender roles adds an unexpected twist that shockingly works to the play’s advantage; a villainous woman after Peter Pan, Peter Pan’s own hatred toward his mother manifested in sexual aggression toward his nemesis and the control held by Captain Hook’s hook is not actual power or violence in and of itself, but is manifested mainly in sexual prowess.
Every aspect of this play works together to create a piece unique all its own. Even the set design captivates; Peter Pan is not suspended by clumsy wires to fly, but uses the set, sheer physicality and the help of his fellow actors to literally fly through the air. It’s a sight to see and one you have to see yourself to believe.
So when the moment comes, and Tinkerbell’s light is about to die out, as it inevitably does, and you feel the heavy silence surround you, think of the play you’ve sat and watched, the emotions it’s stirred in you and how you actually want to cry out for Tinkerbell to live; and in that moment, don’t let anything stop you. It’s a childhood favorite, and dark as this version may be, it’s still Peter Pan. It’s incredible.