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Childsplay’s Pete, or The Return of Peter Pan Soars

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There are no pyrotechnics to throw dazzle at Childsplay’s new Peter Pan. There are no Foys in the flies of Pete, or The Return of Peter Pan; no million-dollar special effects or scenic wizardry. None are needed: This comic adventure soars on skillful writing and clever performances. 

The play by Dwayne Hartford is a proper sequel to the J.M. Barrie classic, set in the early 21st century of cell phones, video games, and toe-curling colloquialisms. “Totally awesome!” announces our Peter, having been corrupted in the ways of speech by Wendy and Henry, the great-great-grandchildren of the original Wendy who’ve discovered grandma Margaret’s useful secret: How to get to Neverland. How to fly.

Having flown, the erstwhile Wendy and John fall directly into an animated tussle with a trio of pirates bent on finding the late Captain Hook’s clock, with which they will force Peter Pan to age and capture Neverland. 

Playwright Hartford, a longtime resident artist with the company, knows what kids want from a story as well as how to build life lessons into a play that’s a pleasure for adults to watch, too. His Neverland is a subtly feminist kingdom, where most of the pirates are female, where men and boys are forgetful and boastful and conniving. Wendy’s there to prove that girls are as worthy as boys, and aligns herself with the bad guys, whose malice is at least purposeful; meanwhile, the boys run around stealing dinosaur eggs until Wendy calls on them to defend Pete’s place. 

The usual cast of Childsplay characters is happily on hand. Debra K. Stevens and Katie McFadzen cavort as a pair of best-bud scalawags, all charming bits of pirate business and comic squabbling. Jon Gentry, always the nimble farceur, brings a nudge and wink to nearly every line. (“You realize it’s not over, right?” he muttered sarcastically to a delighted matinee audience who’d just applauded the next-to-last scene of the play.) 

The young actors keep up admirably. Rebecca Duckworth is an amiable and athletic Wendy; Alan Khoutakoun, in his Childsplay debut, is equally energetic and beguiling as her little brother. Gavin Austin Brown, also offering his first Childsplay role, embodies the guile of Barrie’s eternal boy, who’s at once enchanting and just a little bit naughty. He and his comrades are held aloft, literally and figuratively, by a pair of gymnastic warriors, Bobby Shook and Marshall Vosler, whose balletic fight choreography was created by David Barker. The direction by Childsplay founder and artistic director David Saar, who’s retiring after 30 years, strikes a balance as perfect as Peter Pan’s: full of fun and just enough mischief to entertain adults, too. 

As Pete might say, “Totally awesome.”

Pete, or The Return of Peter Pan continues through May 22 at . For tickets, call 480-350-2822 or visit www.childsplayaz.org.

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