David Jay Smith Chang and I went to see *For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday* at Playwrights Horizons on 9/30/17. It's a new play by Sarah Ruhl about a 70-year-old woman who had played Peter Pan in her 20s. The play opens with an interesting curtain speech - - the star, Kathleen Chalfant, came in front of the curtain, and I don't think I was alone in thinking she was going to be asking us to not take any photographs, make recordings, or use our cell phones during the performance. It turned out this was actually the opening of the play, it was her character having a little soliloquy before the curtain went up. An interesting way to open the play.
The curtain went up on her and her four siblings (three brothers, two sisters) at the death bed of their father. There were longish moments of quiet in this scene that were breathtaking in their purity. Sadly, these moments turned out to the the high points of the play. The dialogue was pretty clunky, it sounded like dialogue in a play, rather than like the way people actually talk. Now, I could say the same thing about Shakespeare, Beckett, Pinter, Kushner, any number of great writers - - they don't write the way people talk, but in those cases you have the trade-off of hearing brilliant writing. The dialogue in this play was often just plain clunky and false. For instance, there was a sequence in this first scene when the siblings were watching a home movie of when they were kids. The movie was being shown on the "fourth wall," the actors looking into the audience as if they were looking at a screen. But they were describing the things that they were seeing. "Oh look, there we are coming down the stairs on Christmas morning." CLUNK. People don't talk like that, they don't describe the things that they're looking at.
There were a few moments of magical realism that were captivating but didn't really work, because they weren't integrated into the drama. The final third of the play (semi spoiler alert) sends the five siblings to Neverland, and I had to suffer through the indignity of feeling like I should be enjoying it more than I did. Also there were some Brechtian moments in this scene, pointing out the artifice of the drama, that could have had great impact, but again, they didn't really land because they weren't successfully integrated.
I have to say that I might not be the target audience for this play because I have next to no familiarity with *Peter Pan.* My experience with Peter Pan is based mostly in peanut butter (and I'm more of a Skippy guy, when it comes right down to it). Chalfant's character often (too often) let loose with a "cockle-doodle-doo," which David Jay told me was something that Peter Pan does. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy that. And yes, the flying was delightful (is it too late for a spoiler alert?), and I did recognize the signature Peter Pan pose (right hand up, right leg bent, left hand down, left toe pointed down), that got a smile out of me. And yes, it was a thrill to see a 72-year-old woman in a Peter Pan costume, flying around the stage.
David Jay and I agreed that the play was not boring, the performances were good, and it was a pleasant way to spend ninety minutes. I think we were both glad the tickets were free (this was my second time having press tickets for a show, woo hoo). But we also both agreed that our conversation at lunch before the play was more satisfying than the play itself.
That sentiment took me back ten years, when Karen Miller and I saw Karen Finley in a double bill one-woman show, "The Dreams of Laura Bush" and "The Passion of Terri Schiavo." THAT show was so awful that we decided that the next time we got together, we would cut out the cultural event and just have dinner. I suggested maybe we could hand each other $20, so we could feel that we were stimulating the economy.