BWW Review: Sarah Ruhl Pits Growing Up Against Growing Old In FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY
It wasn't long after Mary Martin took her first Broadway flight as Peter Pan that Ann, the central character of Sarah Ruhl's sometimes-whimsical/sometimes-philosophical new drama took her own crack at the role as a 10-year-old.
A monologue about that lifetime highlight, delightfully presented by the always-interesting Kathleen Chalfant, opens FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY, a play that debates the necessity of growing up while growing old.
By the play's end, Ann and her younger siblings - John (Daniel Jenkins), Michael (Keith Reddin), Wendy (Lisa Emery) and Jim (David Chandler) - are costumed in the familiar styles of their fictional namesakes and playing out J.M. Barrie's classic story infused with observations about their own lives. And yes, there is flying.
What happens in between is certainly intriguing, thanks to Ruhl's talent for clever and entertaining dialogue and director Les Waters' strong company, but not completely engaging.
The familial quintet, aged late 50s to 70, sits in vigil in an Iowa hospital waiting for the inevitable passing of their bedridden father, George (Ron Crawford). Their sadness for their loss is at odds with their anxiousness for him to be freed from his pain as soon as possible.
"We're orphans now!" exclaims the youngest, Wendy, in one of Ruhl's somewhat heavier references to her source.
Middle child Jim's (David Chandler) jab at the current president, calling him Slick Willy, tells us we're somewhere in the 1990s. By the play's final flourish, Jim will be dressed as Captain James Hook, dueling with Ann over her resistance to facing her own mortality.
An impromptu wake in the old family home, fueled by numerous shots of Jamison, brings back old memories and prompts current political debates. The most significant moment here is Wendy's angry reminder that politics is like sports to her brothers; entertaining, but not affecting their lives nearly as much as it affects the lives of her and her sister.
Ruhl dedicates FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY to her mother, who played the role as a teenager, and her opening monologue is a charming and loving tribute. But from there, the play seems thematically lost.