at Children's Theatre Company through October 2
The bedtime story was one of the most reliable childhood balms, a ligature between the rigors of young life and the unknowable things that lay waiting in the night. Douglas Irvine's adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (produced in collaboration between CTC and Scotland's Visible Fictions) grasps the concept with knowing vigor, rendering a familiar story with passion and power worthy of the most complicated childhood dreams. Here the action is firmly focused on Wendy (Elise Langer), presented as both a young girl exhilarated with, and as a grown mother faintly haunted by, her adventures with the weird, eternally young Peter (Brandon Weinbrenner). Fabrizio Montecchi's set and shadow-puppet concept contribute mightily to a production that allows the strange undercurrents of Barrie's world to breathe. While the less far-flown aspects of the story occur on an almost bare stage, with minimal props, when matters transport to Neverland the action is writ large through ornate and visually witty shadow puppets. In a nice piece of legerdermain, the players routinely cross behind the screen on which the puppet forms are projected, the actors replaced seamlessly by their two-dimensional surrogates. Bob Davis eventually emerges as Hook toward the end (having primarily voiced the captain's puppet until now), delivering a funny death speech and engaging in some straight-ahead swordplay with Weinbrenner (whose Peter has just finished fatally dispatching a good deal of Hook's crew). But along with the adventure are some fascinating, squishy tones: Peter and Wendy's relationship, such as it is, would keep a phalanx of analysts occupied, and in one shocking moment Peter appears ready to stab a child to death to keep his off-kilter fantasy life afloat. Weinbrenner hits the right notes, conveying both the wonder of his character and the central self-delusion and borderline nuttiness to which it is linked. This is a show aimed at the grade-school set, who surely understand far more than they are able (or willing) to articulate, but as a piece of theater it stands quite nicely on its own merits as a moving, bittersweet, and transporting work.