Last night I flew to “Neverland”, by way of a theatre near Harvard Square, filled with Cantabrigians (many with their Freudian slips showing). My last live encounter with “Peter” and his coterie of lost boys was “Peter and the Starcatcher” which, like this piece, is a prequel to the iconic “Peter Pan” (as we know, not always a musical: this writer saw the non-musical version in 1950, with Jean Arthur as “Peter”; Boris Karloff as “Captain Hook”; and incidental music written by a thirty year old composer named Leonard Bernstein).
Based on the movie starring Johnny Depp, and directed by Diane Paulus, last evening’s “Finding Neverland” was a sparkling, often dark (in a psychological sense), account of the inception of J. M. Barrie’s beloved story (leading to the beloved Broadway musical featuring Mary Martin, then Sandy Duncan, then Cathy Rigby; the subsequent TV version, starring Mary Martin, and another planned “live” production, to star Alison Williams–yes, of “Girls” fame).
As a therapist, Barrie’s world is ripe for interpretation. Only once in this production (which had an earlier incarnation in the UK) is there a veiled reference to the oddity of a grown, able-bodied (not “Lenny” of “Mice and Men”) man playing with children (the four sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies), indicating that “people are talking”: about Barrie’s relationship with their mother, and also his becoming the boys’ playmate (a fifth son, if you will). I am sorry to admit I do not know anything of J. M. Barrie’s life; my curiosity is piqued.
Today, a playwright who immersed himself in this world might be suspect. Glaringly it points to the author’s reluctance (refusal) to embrace adulthood (an underlying theme in the musical’s book). Seeing a male of indeterminate age, joining in the imaginary exploits of children, ages six through thirteen (guessing; actor Sawyer Nunes, as “George,” the eldest child, has grown a lot since I saw him in “Matilda” in February), is refreshing, but also unsettling at times. As a society, we know too much now. Hindsight puts us in an awkward position; we are looking at a man who today might be considered unstable, albeit brilliant. Perhaps one the of the “Freudian-Slippers” in last night’s audience could shed some light on Mr. Barrie’s tortured psyche?