Beyond Neverland with Bag&Baggage
Bag&Baggage Production's last show of its 2018-19 season, "Peter/Wendy," is not taking the Disney route on its storytelling journey of J.M Barrie's classic characters.
A play by Jeremy Bloom, the contemporary script adapts Barrie's works "Peter and Wendy" and "The Little White Bird" (the first Barrie novel to mention the boy who never grew up) simultaneously. While both scripts were meant for children, the underlying themes of both stories explore deeper, darker concepts like loss.
"Peter/Wendy" follows the story of Peter Pan luring Wendy away from her nursery, and they do come across Tiger Lily, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell, but the story is stripped down and evokes emotion.
The opportunity to bring "Peter/Wendy" to life felt perfect to close the season, since Hillsboro's resident professional acting company is known for taking on the classics, Bag&Baggage artistic director Cassie Greer said.
"With Disney, you get the fairy dust and the happily ever after, the idealized version of all these characters — and to have that be your window of what the story is, then you go to read the novel, there are just some things in the text that make you think, 'Wait a second, this is a children's book?'" said Greer, who directs "Peter/Wendy."
In J.M. Barrie's novel, Mr. and Mrs. Darling talk about if they can keep Wendy or not, an idea that Barrie used to satirically critique British society in the early 1900s.
"When you think this is predominately geared toward children, the concept that perhaps your parents are balancing you against money kind of gives you pause," Greer said.
Barrie was also known to be ahead of his time in the world of psychology, including the "Peter Pan Syndrome" about men who don't want to grow up, and the psychology of dreams since Barrie was known to suffer from sleep disorders.
He is also known for taking care of the Llewelyn Davies children after their parents died, and they inspired a lot of the characters in "Peter Pan."
"The ambiguity of, what is this story actually about and is Peter Pan the hero or the villain, and all of these other questions," Greer said. "With the cast, we talked about exploring the spaces between what is certain and not certain, and leaning into those places of uncertainty (to) see what may come to the surface there."
Those elements of uncertainty are found in Barrie's writing, Greer said, and they are explored in adaptations of his work.
"Knowing all of this and also understanding the context of the creation of this story has really informed the way we approached the script — particularly in ways Jeremy Bloom, the playwright, stipulates that he is stripping away all the extraneous elements — and boil the story down to its necessary components and to allow what is at the heart of the story to come to the surface," Greer said.
Greer said she gravitated toward the Bloom script when deciding what show to end the season on because it was "sparse," she said.
"(Bloom) leaves so much room for the imagination," Greer said. "It could have gone any direction that a director and cast could take it, and that was really exciting to me."
Bloom's "Peter/Wendy" also calls for some less-traditional casting of the iconic characters of Neverland, encouraging "diversity in terms of gender, body type, ethnicity, and age," in addition to highlighting the personal qualities of each actor.
Half of the actors in the show are new to the Bag&Baggage stage. Associate Artist Phillip J. Berns plays the titular Peter Pan, alongside newcomer Kayla Kelly's Wendy. Company members Kymberli Colbourne and Jeremy Sloan are joined by Justin Charles, Jacquelle Davis and Cambria Herrera to round out the
"They are all fantastic. There is something about Kayla as a performer that she comes across very authentic and innocent, and having this incredible depth that is so compelling," Greer said. "That really stood out in her audition, and why I am super-interested in having her in this role and why she has been working on Wendy for the past month."
The play also captures movement, with all the actors on stage most of the time, and features flight front and center."
"It has a clear story and arc, but if people enjoy something with a lot of highly visual work and enjoy the melding of movement and text, that is what this is," Greer said.
"Peter/Wendy" opens on Thursday, May 2, with a "pay what you will" performance, where audience members can contribute what they can for a seat, at The Vault Theater.
The show runs through Sunday, May 19, taking place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoons.
Tickets and more information can be found online at bagnbaggage.org.
By Janae Easlon
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune971-762-1166
Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
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