“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Pablo Picasso
Good art is a transportation away from the everyday. If the play is engaging, if the world-building is exact, you should forget about your crappy job, the traffic on the way to the theater, and anxiety of everyday. Peter Pan at Single Carrot has that magical conveyance. As soon as the lights go down and characters show up (wearing harnesses no less), you know you are in for an adventure.
This isn’t Disney’s Peter Pan. The script by Josh Conkel transports Peter and Wendy into Never Ever Land but with a few twists. Both are struggling with sexuality and gender identity. The press release states, “Familiar fantasy and true stories from Baltimore’s LBGTQ+ community blend as those who have been rejected and devalued build a home for themselves and each other: a stronghold against normalcy where Peter, the Darlings, and all the Lost Boys can be themselves.” As Peter takes Wendy, John, and Michael away, he shows them that you can be whatever you want to be- if you only believe (and maybe have some pixie dust available).
The show-stopper for this one is Ben Kleymeyer as Peter/Wendy. Their infectious spirit, playful mood, and adorable outfits put them in a bracket of their own. THEY STEAL THIS SHOW. I could not take my eyes off them. Often when Ben was onstage, everything else seemed moot. Costumes by Matthew Smith should be credited here as well- the tights under the jeans are a look in the beginning and practical as the story progresses and Peter becomes Wendy. The green lace shirt is also a nice touch and matches the glitter and hair piece. But back to Ben. Seriously, could they be any more amazing? Even the effortless slide down the ramps on stage could not be replicated by any other ensemble member. After the show, my friend and I introduced ourselves boldly and she might have taken photos with them. I am so sorry for our brazen and loud attack on your poise- I will give you name of my therapist if needed. But my companion wanted to take them home with her, I told her she had to leave them behind. Dejectedly we went to the bar and talked more about the phenomenal attributes of Ben! P.S. (then I swear I’ll get to the rest)- Ben said that they often work in as a director, behind the scenes, but maybe they should step out in front of the lights more often <3.
The supporting actor award goes to Barron Singleton. As Mrs. Darling in the beginning he is hysterical. When the children make a mess and talk about fairies, he deadpans, “I don’t have time for this shit.” And honey, we’ve all been there. His double as Tink(er Bell) is just as captivating. He carries a small bulb on a stick and swings it passionately while whispering things like “trick” behind Wendy’s back. The only odd thing about Tink’s role was the switch between a high-pitched indistinguishable muttering, and Barron’s smooth delivery. Also a shout out for the sassy mermaid scene with Dominic.
Tina Canady depicts Wendy/Peter. She carefully postures herself in the beginning to look awkward and uncomfortable in not only her dress, but her skin. As she finds Peter’s Dicky, she realizes the power it yields. And as she wears it, and morphs into Peter, she straightens up her spine and becomes a more complete figure. The strange rope belt depicting male genitals seemed more acceptable and at home on Wendy by the end.
The microphone on the side of the stage with a spotlight was odd at first. But once the characters began using it to voice their own individual stories, before stepping back into the scene, was what solidified this as discussion of identity and finding yourself. The intimacy of their confessions lends well to the story going on around them.
Was the show perfect? No there were some minor hiccups that caused me to momentarily come out of never ever land and write something on my small notepad. The first is the flying. When the characters come out on stage in harnesses, the excitement was palatable. I heard people whispering, “they are going to fly!” with child-like glee. So imagine our disappointment when they strap their harnesses and just kind of hang. In fact, another character comes out and holds their feet. I pulled back into a three chin frownie face. Although Ben as Peter does swing around a bit (weeeeee!), it was just kind of a let down. The second is the gender switch scene. Peter and Wendy decide to try on each other’s roles and clothes. The background music came up and drown out everything else. I was leaning and straining to hear their lines, but could not make them out over the blaring songs.
The cast is merely listed as “ensemble” so I had to do some sleuthing to assign names to roles. Sage Wong does a nice job as John, the older of the two Darling boys, noted on stage by their red cap. Their no nonsense attitude and disgust with both the little whiny brother Michael played by Leila Hanna-Kohen, and the older sister Wendy played by Tina Canady, is pure middle child syndrome. Leila’s depiction of a booger-eating whiny child in a onesie is spot on. The best line I think is when they retort “He’s four? He looks like he’s thirty.” And we all laugh at the irony of the truth of the irony. Richard Goldberg is Nanna the dog, and much more dynamic as Hook. His crooning into the mic and sexual pursuit of Smee, played by Mel Tillery is comically appeasing. Remember when I said this isn’t Disney? Yeah, two pirates come out with feathers and bondage materials and are told to “go get a room.” Peter and Wendy get into compromising positions (almost) as they explore and try to make sense of their questioning sexual identity. Smee and Hook also appear to have a lusty liaison going on, but Smee has asked for a little more tenderness and laments that maybe a nicer guy should be in their future. Hook agrees but also slaps Smee’s ass, so we’ll put them down as “it’s complicated.”
The Ensemble of stars are depicted by Dominic Gladden, Twin Steele, Mel Tillery, and Alex Walker. They shift in and out of other minor roles such as the lost boys, mermaids, and Tiger Lily with ease and are well crafted at changing voice, range, and posture. There were a few heavy-handed moments of the script, where Alex Walker is supposed to be Tiger Lily and misses her cue. It felt contrived and a little overdone, unless she really did miss her cue and was trying to cover for it. Dominic’s sock puppet twin and Alex’s bedazzled football shoulder pads were excellent extras. The only person I had trouble with was Twin Steele. I could not hear a word he was saying. I don’t know if it is the actor, or the sound effects in the background, but many of his lines were mere mutterings.
The scenic design by Doug Johnson works well. The panels for the Darling house and ramp type pirate ship playground for the rest of the set tell the story properly. The only drawback was when the doors open to bring the panels back in, the light from the lobby is jarring. And what is up with the fog machine? Fog machines are cool, and probably pretty expensive, but just cause you have it doesn’t mean you need to pump fog in all your shows all the time. Maybe the mermaid lagoon? Maybe battles with pirates to be “cannon smoke.” But otherwise it seemed odd and misplaced.
Peter Pan gives voice not only to its roots in Baltimore, but to the LBGTQ+ community. It speaks a lesson we all need to hear, even us cis folk. That your body doesn’t define you. That who you are is more than your genitalia and outward appearance, more than who you choose as a partner; and love is life. Loving your life is the key to happiness- whether it is being a young boy who refuses to grow up, or a mother who dotes on her children. Your heart will be your guide to the second star, straight on til morning. Some pixie dust might be required to make it happen though.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go see this world premier performance at Single Carrot. Go revel in Ben Kleymeyer’s presentment of Peter Pan, enjoy the world-building and silliness. Laugh at the jokes and bawdy retaliations, and donate to the LBGTQ+ community in your home town. It sounds like a night out to see this show can’t possibly be wrong.
Peter Pan runs through May 20th. Running time 75 minutes with no intermission.