PanBy Philip Pearce

ONE OF THE BLESSINGS of Monterey Peninsula theater is our rich supply of opportunities for young people.

I’ve personally experienced the excitement of sharing in a combined youth/adult project with members of the gifted and energetic Young Company at Western Stage. PacRep’s School of Dramatic Arts trains young performers with the variety of theater skills that produced their recent stunning performance of Disney’s Mulan. Ariel in Salinas instills in local kids a sense that the teamwork involved in theater is a basis not only for work on stage but for building character and purpose in their lives. MPC continues, even under economic challenges, to offer exciting family-oriented productions under its Story Book Theatre banner. Santa Catalina and Carmel High boast school theater plants that technically rival and probably excel those of the main local adult venues.

Paper Wing, chiefly noted for edgy and sometimes controversial adult material, shares the same conviction that the life and growth of local theater depend on committed, disciplined and skilled junior production and tech artists supported by audiences in their age group. It is currently offering a fast and well-acted presentation of Pan, a play written by young local teacher and actress Amanda Platsis. It’s got a cast of nearly 25 players, it’s an interesting spinoff on Barrie’s Peter Pan and it’s attracting substantial audiences of predominantly young spectators to Paper Wing’s Hoffman Avenue venue. (Pictured above, Beverly Van Pelt as Jessica, Rachael Sizemore as Damian and Kelsey Posey as Tinker Bell.)

The direction, shared between the author and Tiffany Torrez, is sharp and the cast are wonderful. It’s great, for starters, to have a male Peter Pan in the person of the vigorous and agile actor/dancer Devin Adler, who struts and crows with lots of dazzle and dash. His costar in Platsis’ version is Jane, daughter of the late Wendy, played with charm and maturity by the beguiling Maris Welch, who not only acts intelligently but sings a cappella, melodiously and right on key. It’s all basically the story of her campaign with Peter to rescue her brother Damien (Rachael Sizemore) from the clutches of Patrick Golden’s flashy and stentorian Captain Hook. There are too many other fine performances to praise en masse, but I was specially taken with Topher Sullinger as Hook’s dim-witted sidekick Schmee and with Cody Moore’s double stint, first as Peter’s elusive shadow and then as the voice of a bigger than life-sized crocodile puppet who figures yet again in the downfall of the wicked Hook and his crew of seagoing miscreants.

All the familiar figures from the original novel are on hand along with some interesting newcomers. Hook’s pirate gang, for instance, have taken on board Tinker Bell’s renegade fairy sister Jessica, played full-throttle nasty by Beverly Van Pelt. The lost boys are as skittish and exuberant as ever, and the mermaids appear as a trio of vain and seductive ladies led with a lot of cooing Mason-Dixon vanity and self-absorption by Marjorie Lowry. Tiger Lily (Karli Masinger) and her Indian tribe have become a gaggle of fairy-dusting hippies. An innovation I found particularly appealing was the romance between (I kid you not) Tinker Bell and the clod-hopping Schmee.

Platsis’ script provides nice interludes for each of these familiar Barrie character groups. What the script does less well is to sustain a consistent dramatic plot line. Everything points ahead to Jane and Peter’s rescue of Damien from Hook and the Pirates. But, as Jane herself eventually complains, this inevitable sequence is put off in favor of a succession of lively enough but thematically irrelevant hi-jinks by the big cast of characters. The main story doesn’t really come back into focus until Peter defeats Hook, who then gets dragged off by the slathering crocodile. Once that main problem has been solved, audiences tend to lose interest in unresolved side issues like Tinker Bell’s resurrection—with some help from audience applause—and her reunion with a repentant Jessica.

But it’s an appealing and active show all the same, well worth a trip to Paper Wing headquarters. It continues at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays through August 8.