An awfully big adventure

Proud and insolent youth that he is, Peter Pan is a boy of action who rarely takes time to reflect on anything. Or, rather, when he begins to reflect - occasionally glimpsing the mysteries of growing up, the possibilities of being raised by loving parents and falling in love with a girl one day - he seems on the verge of becoming overwhelmingly sad. So he stops.

Why anyone would feel threatened by or envious of Peter Pan - motherless, permanent boy - is a central issue at the heart of J.M Barrie's 1911 novel "Peter Pan" (originally titled "Peter and Wendy," and adapted from Barrie's 1904 play "Peter Pan"). Drawing faithfully from Barrie's text (in a new adaptation by Joy Marzec), Book-It Repertory Theatre explores the psychological intricacies of Pan's refusal to grow up and the impact he has on other characters at their various stages of maturity and mortal awareness.

On a very spare set in the Center House Theatre (home of Seattle Shakespeare Company), Marzec's "Peter Pan" begins, as one would expect, in Edwardian London's Kensington neighborhood, upstairs in the Darling household. There, brothers John (Tallis Moore) and Michael (Langston Emerson Guettinger) partake in nightly games and bedtime stories of swashbuckling adventure with older sister Wendy (Greta Bloor).

But the fantasies become real when Pan (James Grixoni-Lewis) turns up and loses his shadow, a discovery made by Mrs. Darling (Cornelia Moore), who seems to know all about him from some long-ago experience of her own. Off go Wendy, John and Michael to Neverland, where Pan's Lost Boys coexist with a tribe of Indians, and both groups are at war with Captain Hook (Eric Ray Anderson) and his band of pirates.

Far from Disney's 1953, animated classic interpretation of the old tale, but fairly close to P.J. Hogan's lesser-known but very good, 2003 live-action film version, Book-It's "Peter Pan" is easily accessible to kids yet rings with remarkable, psychosexual complexity.

Pan, who ran away from his own mother, turns up once per generation in a line of Wendy's female ancestors and descendants, flying off with each and basking in their maternal energy while shying away from romance. (A robust and emotionally transparent Grixoni-Lewis is very good at telegraphing flashes of pain whenever Pan stubbornly rejects a chance to love and learn.)

It's the females who are in the arena of grand passion. Wendy loves the boy but can't stay with him since he will never change. The fairy Tinker Bell (a fine, original interpretation by Rhonda J. Soikowski) pines for Peter and is so envious of Wendy she attempts to kill her. Likewise, Indian princess Tiger Lily (a mysterious Marissa Price) is jealous of both Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Hook, meanwhile, would seem poised to address the pubescent Wendy with a certain picaresque villainy. But, in fact, he and the other pirates are just grown-up versions of the Lost Boys, men who never knew a mother's love and who hope, even now, that it is not too late. Anderson's decadent, half-mad Hook savagely and comically captures the captain's terror of irrelevance, of growing old along with his perennial emptiness, of descending into senile confusion over what constitutes "good" or "bad form."

Marzec's script, which uses these characters (sometimes confusingly) to liberally narrate the story even as they act out their parts, makes strikingly clear that Hook's resentment of Pan is not just because the boy-hero cut off the older man's hand. It's because Pan will never know what Hook knows about being grown up, the sum of one's experiences.

Marzec, who also directed the play, breaks theatrical tradition by casting different actors as Hook and Wendy's father, Mr. Darling (Andrew Derycke). Using the same performer in both parts (as Hogan did in the aforementioned film) adds another, unspoken layer of parental hostility toward the boy who awakens Wendy's heart. But it's possible other themes in Marzec's version might have been overshadowed or complicated by introducing that idea. In any case, this "Peter Pan" is no less an awfully big adventure without it.

Book-It Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center House
Through Dec. 23
Tickets: 216-0833 or

[[In-content Ad]]