When I tell you that kindergarten through third grade students in all local public schools were entranced, inspired, and excited to experience live theatre in their schools this week, I am not using hyperbole; in fact, the descriptive words used do not begin to explain the response to Darke County Center for the Arts’ in-school presentations of DuffleBag Theatre’s Peter Pan, the second of DCCA’s Arts In Education programs this school year.
This vibrant troupe of Toronto-based actors who celebrate the wonder of creative story-telling with warm-hearted imagination and hilarious antics earned squeals of laughter and howls of delight from children who were totally immersed in all that took place during the engaging performances.
Marcus Lundgren, Chris Darroch, and Maggie Hammel propel the fun, beginning with light-hearted instructions informing the youngsters that they are all a part of the show, and will be expected to not only clap and cheer, but also to dramatically respond to events as they occur throughout the performance.
As Marcus spins the familiar tale, Chris and Maggie assume multiple roles and simple yet evocative costumes transforming them into not only the Darling children, but also the Hollow Tree and pirate Smee (Chris) and the pixie fairy Tinker Bell (Maggie) and more. The main characters are played by actors pulled from the audience, most of whom relish their opportunity to shine in front of their peers.
As Wendy sadly contemplates her future outside the beloved nursery shared with her younger brothers, a fate ordered by her mother as played by one of the teachers in the audience, Peter Pan appears and magically transports Wendy to his home, a place so far away that Wendy, tired from all that flying, believes they will “Never Land.”
Comedic tension heightens as jealous Tinker Bell schemes to have Wendy kidnapped by pirates. Captain Hook appears onstage, his evil laugh greeted by shouts from the crowd, as helpfully instructed by the story’s narrator. Wendy gets snatched away and eventually rescued, Tinker Bell drinks poison but is saved by the lusty support of all in the audience who believe in pixie fairies, a battle between hero and villain ensues (never mind that it’s a dance battle) with Hook ending up in the cold briny sea being chased by a “tick-tock, tick-tocking” alligator, and Wendy returns home to her welcoming mother, secure in the knowledge that because of all those characters she will forever keep in her heart, she will be okay even though it is time to leave the nursery.
Bad puns, corny jokes, and much, much more are scattered throughout the performance, which ends with the pronouncement “and you all lived happily ever after.”
But that summary does not begin to capture the pure delight that filled the room during the show. As in all theatre, the actors and the audience were all in this together, bravely depending upon one another to do their part, each person knowing that each role is vital to the success of the whole experience. None of this came as a surprise to Marcus, Chris, and Maggie. As they travel the world with the “nearly world famous” DuffleBag Theatre, they have learned that children from everywhere, regardless of language, regardless of nationality, laugh at the same things.
Theatre reaches across cultures to express emotions, as well as ideas, and can be a force for good by simply bringing people together in a shared experience.
You, too can enjoy a shared experience with DuffleBag Theatre, who will be performing their version of Romeo and Juliet at The Bistro Off Broadway tonight at 7 p.m. Even if you believe you do not enjoy Shakespeare, you will have a good time with this original adaptation, which contains some input from The Bard, but will also include plot modifications from the assembled audience. Think “theatrical karaoke,” and a whole lot of fun for all concerned! Tickets for this performance are just $10, and will be available at the door.