In Neverland, Prop Thtr finds the poignancy in J.M. Barrie's chestnut | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

In Neverland, Prop Thtr finds the poignancy in J.M. Barrie's chestnut 

The new take gives a well-worn story a modern sense of urgency.

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Beth Rooney

I have to admit that I was dreading having to sit through another version of Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie's chestnut about the boy who refused to grow up hasn't aged well—it's hard to suspend one's disbelief and hold one's nose enough to pretend to be back in 19th-century England while one is in 2018 America.

Though it takes a while to get going, this new take, devised by the Prop Thtr ensemble and directed by Olivia Lilley, managed to win this skeptic over by turning a well-worn story on its head and giving it a ripped-from-the-headlines urgency. Pan is an arrogant man-child who punishes anyone who dares to question his motives, Wendy is a manipulative teenage delinquent, and Hook is a heartbroken and bitter woman who's just looking for a little love and understanding.

By completely reconfiguring the story and the characters, the play is able to ask serious questions about what it means to become a grown-up in today's ever-evolving society. Hook's first mate, Smee, for instance, is the only straight male in the piece, and he's a cowering, confused ball of violence and misdirected feelings. Everyone here is grappling with their identity in one way or another, but it's when Hook (played with a perfect balance of iciness and sorrow by Kate Black-Spence) takes over center stage at about the halfway point that this tale truly gets its sea legs. In her climactic duel with Pan nobody wins, because they're no longer fairy-tale heroes and villains in Neverland but instead former friends who have betrayed one another and have no idea how to fix what's been broken.   v

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