CEDAR RAPIDS – Peter Pan has gout, Wendy suffers from arthritis and Michael and John are limping after failing to fly, but their adult journey to Neverland is cherished – and a magical gift for anyone lucky enough to see “For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday.
After two moves of reality, “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” turns to the fantasy of adult siblings enacting the fairy tale of their youth in Neverland. They are (left to right) Marty Norton as Ann, Rip Russell as Jim, Philip Schramp as John, Traci Rezabek as Wendy and Jon Day as Michael. The Theater Cedar Rapids production runs through May 29 on the outdoor stage behind Brucemore Mansion in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jav Ducker)
While definitely aimed at adults, this 80-minute piece will thrill the kid in your heart and break it a bit. So grab a ticket, a chair, a blanket, a picnic – and some tissues – to enjoy this Cedar Rapids Theater production under the setting sun in Brucemore’s outdoor amphitheater.
Contrary to the stormy forecasts, the weather was magnificent for the opening night of May 13, and it remained so all weekend. You have until May 29 to experience the wonder for yourself.
What: “For Peter Pan on His 70th Birthday”
Or: Theater Cedar Rapids at the Peggy Boyle Whitworth Outdoor Amphitheater of Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. May 20 to 22 and 26 to 29; 80 minutes without intermission
Supplements: The site opens at 6:30 p.m. for parking and picnics; bring seats, food and drinks.
Tickets: $25 adult, $15 youth/student, theatrecr.org/event/for-peter-pan-on-her-70th-birthday-2/2022-05-13/
The show is playwright Sarah Ruhl’s love letter to her mother, actress Kathleen Ruhl, who has played Peter Pan many times at the Davenport Children’s Theater, and starred in the play’s premiere in April 2017 at the Shattered Globe in Chicago.
Now Marty Norton steps into the character of Pan, renamed Ann. Norton recently turned 70 and, like Pan, she is full of youthful exuberance, tinged with adult grief.
The story unfolds in three movements, with no intermission, beginning with Norton and his four siblings gathered at their father’s bedside in the hospital, watching over his final hours. A doctor who made house calls, he was busy caring for others for much of Ann’s life. But he never missed a performance of her playing Peter Pan and always greeted her with roses afterwards.
It is their bond, which will sustain Ann after she is gone.
Two of her brothers are also doctors, the other is a teacher, Ann has a doctorate. in rhetoric and Wendy, the youngest in an age range of almost 20, seems to be some kind of adviser, although it is not specified.
Accustomed to helping and teaching others, the siblings struggle to help and teach each other through this difficult passage in life.
Should they ask for more morphine when their father struggles, or would that amount to “putting him down,” like the family dog? Is it okay to watch a football match on television and laugh a little at shared memories or to spit a little on political and religious points of view?
Despite the moral and ethical dilemmas they face during this sacred time, their love for each other is stronger than their differing viewpoints. Ann leads them in praying the Our Father, and an even more poignant moment comes when Wendy (Traci Rezabek) begins to sing in a shaky voice that grows bolder as Ann and their brothers join in: Jon Day in as Michael, Philip Schramp as John and Rip. Russell as Jim.
The character who remains nearly silent throughout speaks the loudest as their father, George (Steve Weiss), moves from his deathbed to the outskirts to watch over his children, not looking at them.
When they later ask for a sign, he makes several, but they aren’t quite ready to hear them. One of the signs is pretty funny, when you catch it, and another is downright adorable, thanks to a waddling cameo appearance from Hallward Morton.
Throughout the second movement, the siblings lead their own kind of wake. Sitting around the kitchen table in the family home, they drink whiskey and reminisce about their late father, their lost youth, their relationships, and how it all continues to influence their choices as adults. It’s kind of a catch-up, as they’ve moved on in their lives, their marriages, their kids, and their careers.
Most revealing – and foreshadowing – comes when they speak out about life, death, and the nature of an afterlife. Ann prides herself on not growing up and states that she believes more in Tinkerbell than in an afterlife. Everyone else feels like they’ve grown up.
Switch to the third movement, a fantasy in which they head to Neverland, and Father’s deathbed becomes a mighty sailboat. Ann dons a full Pan costume, Wendy slips into a white nightgown, and the boys have hats and accessories to suggest the Darling boys and Captain Hook.
This scene is hilarious at every turn, and Day’s unabashed joy in battling a pirate will have you hooked. Tinkerbell also has its moonlit moment.
Time slips by like a crocodile, snapping back to reality and the sweetest moment as Weiss shows the power of a genuine smile to melt every heart on stage and in the audience.
Director David Morton guides the action with an actor’s eye and introspection, and with the entire design team and seasoned actors, the magic hovers through the show from start to finish.
Comments: (319) 368-8508; [email protected]
Siblings (left to right) John (Philip Schramp), Ann (Marty Norton), Wendy (Traci Rezabek), Jim (Rip Russell) and Michael (Jon Day) unite their hearts and memories after the death of their father in “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Anniversary.” The Theater Cedar Rapids production runs through May 29 in the outdoor amphitheater behind Brucemore Mansion in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jav Ducker)