That second rate, no, third rate, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has done it again. After presenting its first comic fiasco, The Play That Goes Wrong (still running), they now commit murder most fowl, er, foul on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
In Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre they ineptly, but happily, destroy Barrie’s beloved classic with their usual slapstick, pratfalls, scenic destruction and bad timing, another opening night that entertains for all the wrong reasons.
The show begins as the audience enters. Cast members roam the theater in character, confronting audience members who seem to enjoy it immensely. At one point, still before the curtain, the audience is recruited to run an electrical cord from the stage to the back of the house so that the stage lights could be turned on after an electrical failure in the very complex set (designed by Simon Scullion who clearly went to the Rube Goldberg School of Design). Scullion’s turntable, an extravagance for this on-the-cheap troupe, meant to enhance the storytelling, instead causes no end of problems and some near death experiences.
This Cornley production is more luxurious than any of their previous shows due to the largess of the uncle of cast member Max (Matthew Cavendish who plays Michael Darling and others). Chris (Henry Shields who plays Mr. Darling and later Captain Hook), the director, along with his assistant director, Robert (Henry Lewis, the Darling family pooch, Nana, Peter Pan’s shadow and a Pirate) introduces the show with great pride, pride which quickly sours as one thing after another goes wrong.
Neil Patrick Harris joins the cast as the narrator whose battle with a throne-like chair becomes more and more frenzied and frustrating. He appears to be having a great deal of fun despite being pummeled by the errant seat.
As Peter Pan—the play-within-the-play—commences, the Darling family, led by Mr. Darling, pretty much follow Barrie’s play until the dog, Nana, gets caught in the doggy door to the bedroom leading to the use of a power saw to free him. Things go downhill after that.
Company member Annie, played by Nancy Zamit is sensational as Mrs. Darling and Lisa the maid, barely making the necessary costume changes on time—sometimes failing to do so, caught in a limbo between characters. She is also rather zaftig Tinkerbell wearing a twinkling tutu.
Poor Dennis, who plays John Darling (Jonathan Sayer, wonderfully dumb) has to wear anachronistic headphones to get his lines. Often he speaks words that aren’t his lines, including audition tapes and admonishments to actors.
The Company soon loses its way as bunk beds self-destruct, lines get mangled, Peter Pan flails about in failed attempts to fly and crocodiles and mermaids parade about on skateboards.
If this sounds like a normal production of Barrie’s classic tale, then I am telling it wrong.
The main problem with Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that virtually all the jokes are physical, an unending series of scenic disasters that become not just predictable, but tiresome. Even the great physical comedians of the silent film era knew when enough was enough.
All this physical humor Peter Pan Goes Wrong could appeal to children despite some profanity and silly romantic clinches.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is one of those shows that make me have great respect for stage managers, in this case Adam John Hunter. He has to restore this stage to its pristine condition after every performance.
Director Adam Meggido is to be congratulated for keeping the mayhem from escaping the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Timing is everything and he and the authors, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, are stopwatch perfect.
Roberto Surace’s imaginative costumes and Matthew Haskins’ intricate lighting certainly help keep the play rolling along.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong (through July 23, 2023)
Mischief Theatre Company production
Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.PanGoesWrong.com
Running time: two hours and five minutes including one intermission