Drawn-out RDC production of peter pan bogs down, despite quality performances

Somebody grab that fairy.

Somebody grab that fairy.

Tinkerbell needs to be generously shaken over Red Deer College’s production of Peter Pan so her pixie dust can add some magic to the drawn-out show that opened Thursday at the RDC Arts Centre.

The familiar J.M. Barrie story about a boy who refuses to grow up started out promisingly enough in the Darling children’s London nursery. It was spectacularly rendered with a large dormer window and gabled ceiling by set designer Colin Winslow.

The Darling family is shown to be as whimsical as any clan that has a large St. Bernard dog named Nana, (played with personality by Dylan Hopkins) as their children’s nurse maid.

Mr. and Mrs. Darling (charmingly portrayed by Glenndl Miguel and Cassy Johnson) are about to step out for the evening. But the missus is feeling uneasy because she’s just spotted a flying boy outside the third-storey nursery window.

Mrs. Darling thinks it’s the same boy she saw previously — the one that left his shadow, which she rolled up and stored in a bureau.

Despite her misgivings, the parents leave their children to go out for dinner. And it doesn’t take long for the shadow’s owner to show up to retrieve what he’s left behind.

Peter Pan, depicted as a ball of energy by Brooke Dalton, meets the Darling’s curious daughter Wendy and her brothers, John and Michael. The Darling children, played believably by Jennifer Engler, Brayden Scobie and Halee Pierog, soon fall under Peter’s spell.

The three siblings fly off with him over the rooftops of London (thanks to some impressive special theatrical effects), to have adventures with pirates, mermaids and a tribe of Picaninny Indians.

Neverland is where the real magic is supposed to happen. But unfortunately — and rather unaccountably — it’s where the magic in this production quickly runs out.

You’d think that pirates, mermaids, Lost Boys and fanciful Indians could sustain an audience’s interest, but the story line gets lost in muddled dialogue (actors in crowd scenes need to enunciate better), extended periods of inaction and odd bits of staging.

For instance, we barely see the mermaids because director Thomas Usher has located their lagoon in the orchestra pit.

The capture of the Lost Boys by the pirates later on becomes a tedious affair because each Lost Boy has to walk up a narrow laddered stairwell to get up to where they can be abducted. One by one.

While the Lost Boys act like out-of-control kids whenever the script calls for it, not a single Lost Boy cries out or struggles when confronted by pirates.

Similarly, the pirates only act like loathsome brigands when they are speaking, otherwise they quietly, politely become part of the ship’s backdrop. Thank goodness for one lively sword-fighting scene.

In the dual role of Captain Hook, Miguel captures his babyish fears and pecadillos. But this play also desperately needs flashes of Hook’s larger-than-life villainy, which are absent.

There’s no ongoing musical score, so it’s a welcome relief when Morgan McKee’s original composition breaks the silence or when the pirates finally break out into Tessa Simpson’s Pirate Song.

On the positive side, most of the familiar characters have been well fleshed out by Usher and the cast — even the funny, scene-stealing crocodile, played by Jordan Galloway.

In the lead role, Dalton captures the wistfulness that’s made Barrie’s story stand the test of time. By remaining a perpetual boy in Neverland, Peter Pan occasionally glimpses the future he will never have, including a mother’s love.

Engler’s Wendy resolves to grow up, but experiences pangs of longing for a childhood that will soon be lost to marriage and motherhood.

While the play’s narrator, the Darlings’ housekeeper Liza, played by Liz Spearing, has to deliver some long and thankless speeches, her final one is very touching.

It’s a summation of how the Lost Boys and other adventurous, imaginative children eventually turn into boring, work-a-day grown-ups.

The bright costumes, including Peter Pan’s organic leafy tunic, were wonderfully designed by Angela Dale. The technical side of this show, including a laser-lit Tinkerbell by lighting designer Daniela Masellis and Jane Wren, was amazing. And Winslow’s creation of Neverland was intriguingly based on the toys and drawings in the Darlings’ nursery.

Given all the talent involved, it’s a shame that Peter Pan never lived up to its magical potential. But perhaps the play’s pacing will tighten as the run progresses and this production will find its pixie dust after all.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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