The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan, House Theatre of Chicago, at Viaduct Theater. Playwright James M. Barrie developed the myth of Peter Pan, the “wonderful boy” who wouldn’t grow up, from games and stories about fairies, pirates, and Indians he invented for four-year-old George Llewellyn Davies and his brothers. So the wonderful sense of play permeating this revisionist reworking of the tale is appropriate as well as engaging. In the best tradition of off-off-Loop theater, director Nathan Allen’s low-budget production celebrates the joy of make-believe with inventive visual effects, simple magic tricks, puppetry, and elaborate combat and dance sequences (including a hilarious lip-synched version of “Chain of Fools” by Wendy, Tinker Bell, and Tiger Lily). The athletic young cast tumble about the stage with an energy that’s all the more impressive considering the space isn’t air-conditioned.
But though playwright Phillip C. Klapperich effectively distills Barrie’s story, he then clutters it with heavy-handed symbolism and labored explanations of its psychosexual underpinnings: children’s capacity for violence and cruelty as well as joy, Peter’s inability (like Barrie’s) to relate to women except as surrogate mothers and his oedipal conflicts with Captain Hook, and the terror of age and death as represented by the croc with the ticktock clock. Attempting to expose the tale’s dark subtext, Klapperich robs it of its power; the promising House Theatre ensemble would have done better to apply its ingenious imagination to Barrie’s original.