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Neverland
by Ada Cheng
2018-11-12

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Playright: Devised by the ensemble

At: Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: PropThtr.org; $20. Runs through: Dec. 2

How can the story of Peter Pan be imagined for 2018, a year marked by our individual and collective reckoning about #MeToo Movement and violence against women?

That's the ambitious question Prop Thtr's 12-member ensemble, directed by Director Olivia Lilley, takes on with their newly devised version of Sir James M. Barrie's story of a boy who won't grow up. This Neverland tells not one but three stories from distinct—and often contradictory—points of view.

The ensemble first presents the story of Neverland from the perspective of Peter Pan ( an energetic, dynamic Gaby Labotka ). Peter is presented as the savior and guardian of this imaginary wonderland where members of "The Lost" tribe do not have to grow up. Yet staying innocent ( or assuming innocence ) and not growing up does not mean being free. Peter guards Neverland with an iron fist and a dictatorial command.

Next is the story of Wendy ( the engaging Valeria Rosero ), a young woman from Mexico. Wendy depicts a different picture about Peter Pan and Neverland, showing his capacity for violence and the illusion of this fancy land where innocence can be presumed. Wendy—who constantly challenges the simplistic dichotomy between the innocence of childhood and the complexity of adulthood—compels Neverland's Lost tribe to tell more complex stories about themselves, and insists that we are all heroes and villains at the same time.

Finally, Neverland offers the story of The Hook ( Kate Black-Spence, who brings great presence and depth to the role ), who reveals herself to be the original builder, owner and guardian of Neverland. Through her telling, she contests Peter Pan's version about the origin story of Neverland and reveals how he has betrayed her and has come to claim the ownership of Neverland. In her revisiting the creation and the genealogy of Neverland, The Hook makes most revelatory comments relevant to our time.

Set against contemporary gender and racial politics, the play intends to raise some thought-provoking questions about the world we live in and the challenges we face, particularly issues of identity, reality and truth. How many versions of truth can there be? Whose version prevails in time of judgment and redemption?

Fundamentally, Neverland asks who is capable of vulnerability and who is truly fragile and lost in our time. Ultimately, it asks how we assert our story and our truth when no one listens? How do reclaim our sense of self when no one remembers? And how do we rebuild a world that's already lost?

I truly applaud the production's intent and its attempt to re-envision the story of Peter Pan and juxtapose it against the contemporary politics to raise critical issues of our time, particularly by asking provocative question about who is telling the story/truth and thus defining our reality. However, the devised script, at times, seems fragmented and falls short of the depth necessary for its ambitious intent.


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