116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Peter Pan has gout, Wendy has arthritis, and Michael and John limp around after failing at flying, but their grown-up trip to Neverland is darling — and a magical gift to everyone lucky enough to see “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday.”
While definitely geared for adults, this 80-minute play will delight the child within your heart, and break it just a little. So grab a ticket, a chair, blanket, picnic — and tissues — to enjoy this Theatre Cedar Rapids production under the setting sun in Brucemore’s outdoor amphitheater.
Contrary to stormy forecasts, the weather was glorious for opening night May 13, and it remained that way through the weekend. You have until May 29 to experience the wonder for yourself.
What: “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday”
Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids at Brucemore’s outdoor Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. May 20 to 22 and 26 to 29; 80 minutes with no intermission
Extras: The site opens 6:30 p.m. for parking and picnics; bring seating, food and beverages.
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 played Peter Pan time after time at the Davenport Children’s Theatre, and starred in the leading role when the play premiered in April 2017 at The Shattered Globe in Chicago.
Now Marty Norton is stepping into Pan’s persona, renamed Ann. Norton recently turned 70, and like Pan, she’s full of youthful exuberance, tinged with adult sorrow.
The story unfolds in three movements, with no intermission, beginning with Norton and her four siblings gathered at their father’s hospital bedside, keeping vigil in his final hours. A doctor who made house calls, he was busy tending to others for much of Ann’s life. But he never missed a performance of her playing Peter Pan, and always greeted her with roses afterward.
This is their bond, which will sustain Ann after he’s gone.
Two of her brothers also are doctors, the other is a professor, Ann has a Ph.D. in rhetoric and Wendy, the youngest in a nearly 20-year age span, seems to be a counselor of some sort, although that’s not specified.
Used to helping and teaching others, the siblings struggle with how to help and teach each other through this difficult life passage.
Should they request more morphine when their father is struggling, or would that be akin to “putting him down,” like the family dog? Is it OK to watch a football game on TV and laugh a little at shared memories or spat a little over political and religious points of view?
Despite the moral and ethical dilemmas they face at this sacred time, their love for each other is stronger than their differing views. Ann leads them in praying the Our Father, and an even more poignant moment comes when Wendy (Traci Rezabek) begins singing in a shaky voice that grows bolder as Ann and their brothers join in: Jon Day 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 periphery to watch over his children, without looking at them.
When they later ask for a sign, he obliges with several, but they aren’t really ready to hear them. One of the signs is pretty funny, when you catch it, and another is utterly adorable, thanks to a waddling cameo appearance by Hallward Morton.
Throughout the second movement, the siblings conduct their own kind of wake. Sitting around the kitchen table at the family home, they drink whiskey and reminisce about their late father, their lost youth, their relationships and how all of those continue to influence their adult choices. It’s a catching-up of sorts, as they have moved on through their lives, marriages, children and careers.
The most telling — and foreshadowing — comes as they opine on life, death and the nature of an afterlife. Ann prides herself in not growing up, and declares that she believes more in Tinkerbell than an afterlife. All the others feel like they’ve grown up.
Segue into the third movement, a fantasy in which they make their way to Neverland, and Father’s deathbed becomes a mighty sailing ship. Ann dons a full Pan costume, Wendy slips into a white nightgown, and the boys have hats and props to suggest the Darling boys and Captain Hook.
This scene is hilarious at every turn, and Day’s unabashed glee at fighting a pirate will have you hooked. Tinkerbell has her moment in the moonlight, too.
Time slinks like a crocodile, tick-tocking back to reality and the sweetest moment as Weiss shows the power of a heartfelt smile to melt every heart onstage 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, magic soars through the show from beginning to end.
Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org