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Dark shadows, ominous whisperings and blood dripping from the walls are not the typical images that Peter Pan resurrects in one’s mind. But with a little creativity and a lot of childlike imagination, No Rules Theatre Company managed to turn the classic childhood fantasy into a nightmare.

The use of the word “nightmare” by no means implies a horrifi c or terrible performance; instead, it applauds the company’s ability to be able to pull off such an odd twist on a story. For more than a century, the eternal child of JM Barrie’s original Peter and Wendy has roamed the alleys of our imaginations, bringing to life the typical childhood fantasies of mermaids, pirates and fairies.

But in the adaptation Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers, Michael Huberes’ retelling of Pan’s story does not stop at the brightly lit surface of a happy fantasy. Instead, it delves into Barrie’s dark underlying questions and analysis. Why is it that Pan and the lost boys never grow up? What is Pan’s motivation for running away? Why does he hate adulthood? Is Neverland our imagination, a state of mind, a longing… or some form of afterlife? The fi rst scene of the play immediately sets the tone for a brooding performance.

The lights go dark and ghostlike whisperings command, “Come away” and “Go away.” Only the characters’ mysterious silhouettes are visible at fi rst. Carrie Wood’s lighting plays a large role in creating the mood and atmosphere of the play, as it is the driving force behind both the playful and menacing shadows that dance on stage. At a moment’s notice, a change in the lighting can turn the set from a happy, innocent memory to a distressing realization. The most noteworthy aspect is the set itself, designed by Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha. A worn, hardwood fl oor lies beneath the typical toys and furniture of a 20th century child’s bedroom.

The entire play takes place on the bedroom set and the characters — children at play — use the bedroom furniture to create the scenes in Neverland. Even during intermission, the actors return to the stage in character and play pretend to rearrange the furniture as necessary. A bed frame becomes a ship. A bed, dresser and blanket become a house. But just as the storyline has mysteries revealed, so does the set. Small sections of the stage fl oor are removed at times to expose a small pond, the foliage of wilderness or even a small grave.

The back wall, covered in peeling wallpaper, has hidden doors and windows that allow characters to escape into a starry night or climb up, lie down and pretend to fl y. The biggest surprise is when a light hits the wall and reveals once-hidden blood stains. The actors do a wonderful job in creating a playful, childlike atmosphere. The key is having big ideas with a simple execution. For example, in order to fl y the actors simply raise their arms and stand upon their toes to give the illusion of a child pretending to fl y around their bedroom.

Tricks, wires and gizmos are not needed. Megan Graves gives an outstanding performance as Wendy. Graves is able to fuse both the playfulness of a little girl with the intensity of a worried, pretend mother. Her voice and distinct British annunciation commands attention, and even after the play, my memory carried away some of her lines and replayed them throughout the evening. Her energetic bounce and dainty gestures, such as sitting on the edge of the bed with her toes pointed and dangling, had me double checking the playbill for her age.

Yes, she is an adult with a bachelor’s in fi ne arts. John Evans Reese, on the other hand, brings a savage Peter Pan to the stage. His performance, fi lled with graceless stomping, reminds the audience that boys typically play rough and their imaginations create much more menacing characters and circumstances, such as fi ghting a pirate to the death. Adam Downs, who plays Tootles and Smee, provides the necessary comic relief that balances the play’s intertwining of a playful fantasy with a sinister approach. His joyful expressions and high-pitched exclamations remind the audience of the enthusiasm and hilarity of children.

Overall, the performance is original, shocking and even a little disturbing, but can certainly be appreciated for its unique and thoughtprovoking form. Without a doubt, it’s an entirely new experience for the audience.

wanna go?
No Rules Theatre Company performs Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston- Salem, Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 with an extra 12 p.m. performance on Thursday. Play suggested for ages 10 and up. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information call 336.722.8348 or visit www.norulestheatre.org/shows/peter-pan.

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