Players bringing ‘Peter Pan’ to life
Story by Chris Graham
We all have a bit of Peter Pan in us. We might not always want to admit it, but we resist growing up and its pretensions when we can, and if we could magically conjure ourselves into Neverland, we would.
Alas, life is too real for such concerns to take on more than a passing fancy. Unless you’re an actor or director, and your dreams can come true with a part in a production of the J.M. Barrie classic.
“I’ve wanted to do this show for years. And years and years and years and years,” said Jami Lea Cook, who is directing a Waynesboro Players production of Peter Pan that will take the stage at the Louis Spilman Auditorium at Waynesboro High School May 8-11.
Cook is bringing her own spin to the story of Peter, who refuses to grow up and spends his childhood on the island of Neverland leading a gang of Lost Boys into adventures with fairies and pirates and others.
“I spent a lot of time reading about J.M. Barrie himself, and where he was in his life when he wrote this piece, his inspiration for this piece. And he was kind of like Lewis Carroll in a way, in that he was so childlike as an adult. I just really want to keep the whole whimsical attirude of it and the childlike innocence,” Cook said.
“Some of my cast members are teen-agers, and I keep having to tell them that they for lack of a better term need to dumb down just a bit because they know too much, and they need to forget that they know so much. Because back then, especially in the Victorian era, children didn’t know that much. And if you were a lost boy in Neverland, you knew nothing, except what was there and what was in front of you. I’m just trying to keep that spirit alive when I do the show,” Cook said.
Emily Romig, 17, a senior at R.E. Lee High School in Staunton, is starring as Peter Pan. She realizes that it is something of a challenge to bring the iconic role of Peter Pan to life.
“I have a little brother, and I act like him sometimes, and actually we have this kind of running joke in my family about how my grandfather was such a naughty little boy, so I draw from him,” Romig said.
“I watched the animated movie when I was a kid, and I used to pretend that I was Peter Pan’s sidekick. But other than that, I think I’d seen the Kathy Rigby version once, but I didn’t really know it. But now it’s like the back of my hand,” Romig said.
Chris Ruble of Staunton is Peter Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook. Ruble’s daughter, Katherine, 14, is also in the cast, as Tiger Lily. Chris is feeling the same sort of pressure that Romig is feeling playing a role that we’re all so familiar with.
“It’s hard to avoid what everybody expects with Captain Hook. My nature is to play it toward the funny side, but that’s not the direction that we’re going. So it’s hard for me to stay serious about it,” Ruble said.
Cook, for her part, is downplaying any sense of difficulty in the form of trying to meet the expectations of a discerning audience.
“You can’t really ever expect anybody to walk in and think they’re going to see Cathy Rigby on stage. But the great thing about my cast is that they are all unique and all different, and they’re all bringing great things to the roles that they have. And so I think a few minutes into it, people are going to forget what they’ve seen or heard and be completely immersed in what’s going on on stage,” Cook said.
“It’s a great story in itself, but when you realize where he came from and the type of person that Berrie was when he wrote it, it means that much more. I think to do theater as an adult, you need to have a certain amount of that whimsy no matter what you do to fall into theater and directing or acting or any of that. So it’s just a matter of letting go of what is real and walking into this world that’s fabulous and wonderful,” Cook said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.