By Marcy Stamper
All theater builds on a healthy dose of imagination — and children’s theater even more so — but The Merc Playhouse’s new production of “Peter Pan” really toys with the elastic line between reality and imagination.
Everyone in the production — the director, young actors, and set and costume designers — spent time talking about whether the events in the play really happen, or whether they’re just projections of the kids’ imaginations, said director Missi Smith.
Because Smith urged the entire cast to contribute ideas, “Peter Pan” draws heavily on the power of kids’ ingenuity. As a result, the show — which opens Friday (May 5) — will rekindle memories of childhood and of kids’ knack for turning any event into an exciting adventure, said Smith.
Experiencing the play is almost like re-living playtime as a child. For example, the Lost Boys — played here by boys and girls — are like kids playing dress-up with discoveries from someone’s closet, said Smith.
“How much of the play — and the story in general — is an allegory for never growing up, and for always keeping that creativity and imagination alive? Are the parents just playing along, like they did when you played hide and seek?” said Smith. “Kids love to talk about that kind of stuff.”
The play follows the Darling children, who love listening to Peter Pan describe his adventures. One night they get the chance to accompany Peter Pan and Tinker Bell and to partake in the adventures in Neverland themselves.
The story leads the kids through a spectacular voyage and a scary captivity until Peter Pan rescues them with the help of Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys and the sea urchins. It also helps that Captain Hook is unnerved that the crocodile views him as a tasty morsel.
The story turns on elements like Peter Pan’s shadow being torn off and hidden, kids learning to fly through the magic of storytelling, and poison spells — all sprinkled with a generous helping of fairy dust.
“Peter Pan” has been produced many times on stage and on film, but this particular adaptation contains even more make-believe. In the Merc’s production, Tinker Bell is played by two girls, who conjure up the character using lights and sound, said Smith.
The cast contains almost 30 talented local children from the ages of 8 through 13, some first-time actors and some veterans of the stage. Addie Stratman is Wendy Darling, Kieren Quigley is Peter Pan, and Grace Gonzales is Captain Hook.
There is original choreography by Smith and Lyndsay Frady, and music specially selected to accompany the play.
Because the kids visit fanciful places, the stage set and costumes are especially important. The set, which morphs from a nursery to a pirate ship to a lagoon, was designed by Linda Reese and Betsy Kieckhaefer. “The set is gorgeous,” said Smith.
For her costume designs, Emily Doran took inspiration from the outrageous get-ups worn by rock stars from different eras to outfit some of the characters.
Doran had help from Darla Hussey, who added expressiveness with face paint and glitter. Each production also necessitates some 70 balloons, which Hussey twists into everything from the head and tail of a crocodile to a variety of weapons. Balloon swords make for suitably gentle sword fights.
“Peter Pan” is a production of the Tom Zbyszewski Children’s Theater at The Merc and is sponsored by Winthrop Kiwanis, a long-time supporter of local children’s theater.
The play opens Friday (May 5) and runs through Sunday, May 14. There are performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $16 for adults, and $5 for youths 18 and under. Reserved tickets are available for an additional $2 at www.mercplayhouse.org. On Thursday, May 11, people may pay what they can.