Jason Thiel and Carolyn Wentworth Harder

What happens when Peter Pan grows old? Does she still fly? These are just a few questions that The Little Red Hen Theatre is tackling with its upcoming production of For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, by American playwright Sarah Ruhl. The play is a loving look at a family’s view of death, life, and the allure of never growing up, as seen through the eyes of five siblings in their father’s hospital room during his final moments. His death sparks a conversational wake that includes everything from arguments over politics to when each sibling realized that they grew up, and a magical trip to Neverland. The production starts this Friday, March 11th.
“It is a beautiful piece of theater”, says Managing Director T. Adam Goos, “that will make you make you laugh, possibly make you cry, but will definitely move you”. The play was originally planned for the spring of 2021, but Goos felt that audiences weren’t ready to experience its themes and messages at that time. “I think that now, even though the pandemic is lingering, we’re in a space where we can appreciate the experience of this play. A chance to examine how loss makes us question our own lives, and how losing a parent, at any age, forces us to think about what it means to be a ‘grown-up’ and move through the world on our own”.
The production begins with the main character, Ann, reminiscing about how she had played Peter Pan in her local Iowa community theater as a girl. Her father who was the town doctor had to miss a lot of his children’s activities since he was always on call. From this point the play divides into three sections. In the first, we’re in the hospital with Ann and her four siblings, all named after the Darling children from J.M. Barrie’s play, as their father dies. We are then transported to their childhood home where the siblings hold a wake and discuss their faith in an afterlife. Then, Ann finds and dons her old Peter Pan costume, and brings us to Neverland, or least a version of it. Peter Pan’s classic refrain, “I won’t grow up!” takes on a slightly different meaning in Sarah Ruhl’s play, which weaves such topics as fear of death, family relations, losing loved ones, and aging, with elements of whimsy to touching effect.
For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday features Carolyn Wentworth Harder, Elizabeth Carlson, Buffany DeBoer, Donna Johnson, Dawn Reimers, Jason Thiel, and Champ – the dog. Direction and Production Design is by T. Adam Goos, with assistance from Audrey Loggins. The performance is sponsored in part by the Dixon County Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Nebraska Arts Council, and the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the Gardner Foundation and Patrons of the Little Red Hen Theatre. Performances are this weekend, Friday and Saturday at 7:00 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online at www.littleredhentheatre.com, or by calling (402) 287-2818.