I don’t often recall Geoffrey the giraffe in the middle of a play. If you’re a child of the eighties, you might remember this congenial ungulate as the mascot for Toys R’ us toy stores. I can vividly picture his star turn in the commercials from Saturday morning cartoons. Various happy children would embrace their joy-giving gadgets and sing, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R’ us kid. They gotta million toys at Toys R’ Us that I can play with.” As the commercial ended, Geoffrey sat silhouetted on a bench, staring at the sunset and granting a warm embrace to a child. The campaign was genius. It encouraged kids to put items on their wish list and supplied adults with a heaping dose of childlike wonder.
The characters in Sarah Ruhl’s latest work are essentially reenacting the gist of this 30 second spot over the course of 90 minutes. For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday is loaded with some profound and touching ideas. It is also graced with the indefatigable presence of its star, Kathleen Chalfant. At 72 years old, this screen and stage star continues to immerse herself in creative projects, illuminating the medium by simply being. Watching her literally fly across the stage with lighthearted amusement as Peter Pan is an unmitigated delight.
Daniel Jenkins, Broadway’s original Huckleberry Finn in Big River has grown up to be one of the finest working actors on the boards right now. He joins Chalfant in this family drama that delves into deep questions about mortality and responsibility. Memories are evoked, wounds are reopened, and politics are debated— and derided. Let’s not forget the Jameson. There are fair amounts of the Irish whiskey consumed after 5 siblings lose their father (Ron Crawford) to leukemia.
The stakes however, never seem that high and Ruhl’s play tends to meander between recollections, current affairs, ordinary sibling rivalry, and regret. As memories of dad are revisited, he makes onstage appearances with his trusty dog, Macy. The resistance against adulthood is ever present and—as art often reflects life—it wins.
Ruhl’s Off Broadway story is inspired by her own mother. As a child, she recalled seeing pictures of her mom playing Peter Pan in a local Davenport, Iowa production. While noble to write a play in her honor, it ends up feeling like a cathartic self-help exercise.
Les Waters lends a gentle, kind touch to the direction in this Playwrights Horizons production and David Zinn has created a comfortable Midwest home through his effective set. In the final analysis, Peter Pan some tender moments but overall, it fails to take flight.
For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday runs through Oct 1st at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd between 9th and 10th). For tickets and information, visit the box office or click here.