AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Les Waters
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre
2015 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 647-2949

Reviewed by Judy Richter

The first two scenes of Sarah Ruhl's "For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday" are heavy on talk and light on action, but the final scene makes up for that lack with all sorts of action, even flying and sword fighting.

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre in its West Coast premiere, the 2016 play opens with a front-of-curtain monologue by Ann (Kathleen Chalfant). Part of it focuses on the time in her girlhood when she played Peter Pan in her hometown of Davenport, Iowa.

The curtain then opens to reveal Ann and her four younger siblings in a hospital room with their dying, comatose father, George (Ron Crawford). Not coincidentally, three of her siblings have the same names as the Darling children in J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan."

They are John (Charles Shaw Robinson), Michael (Keith Reddin) and Wendy (Ellen McLaughlin), plus Jim (David Chandler).

During their hospital vigil and subsequent Irish wake (lots of whiskey) in their childhood home, they discuss varied topics ranging from religion and politics to the times when they first felt grown up. Only Ann has nothing to say about the latter. Their father is unseen by them as he wanders through the dining room where they're gathered.

After they retire to their respective bedrooms, Ann dons her Peter Pan costume from long ago and talks about the strange dream she had that night. That's when the action starts.

Wendy, Michael and John are seen as their younger selves, asleep in their beds, when Ann as Peter Pan appears at their window and invites them to go flying to Neverland with her. And they do.

During this sequence they encounter a cartoonish Captain Hook, played by Jim, and even their dog Nana, played by a real St. Bernard named Yodel.

Although it's all great fun, her four siblings are ready to return to their grownup lives, but Ann isn't quite sure.

Director Les Waters has assembled an excellent ensemble cast of actors who convincingly portray siblings coming to terms with the loss of a parent and their individual paths to adulthood and the inevitable sibling rivalries. Chalfant is especially charming as Ann.

Waters also has a solid artistic team with Annie Smart for sets, Kristopher Castle for costumes, Matt Frey for lighting and Bray Poor for sound.

Running 90 minutes without intermission, the show has its rewards, but talkiness makes for slow going in the first two scenes.

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