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360-degree ‘Peter Pan’ more than a flight of fancy



◆ Through June 19

◆ Tent at Freedom Center North, 650 W. Chicago

◆ Tickets, $20-$75

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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

On the corner of Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street these days you will see a large white tent with an elegant external steel support structure. Inside is an airy 1,300-seat arena with an in-the-round stage configuration, a giant, circular, 360-degree scrim ideal for high-tech projections in the IMAX mode, and a grand dome outfitted with an elaborate tracking system that is a crucial ingredient in making the flights of ordinary mortals (and one eternal boy) appear altogether possible.

The tent is the temporary home of The threesixty Theatre production of “Peter Pan,” an ambitious hybrid of live theater, aerial arts, puppetry and supremely advanced computer-generated visuals — a project that began in London and is now on a U.S. tour. An intriguing, if not entirely successful attempt to spin J. M. Barrie’s classic story of a slightly off-kilter Edwardian English family into a whirlwind of 21st century imaginary possibilities, the show, directed by Ben Harrison and spectacularly designed by William Dudley, contains many sequences of sweeping beauty and dreamy wonderment. Above all there is a breathtaking flight to Neverland that carries the audience on a vertiginous journey over London rooftops, through the Marble Arch, along the River Thames and high into the clouds before a rough landing on a Caribbean island where a pirate ship hovers.

If something is lost along the way in all this it is the clarity of the storytelling. For as it happens, Barrie’s story (and it’s all there in Tanya Ronder’s adaptation), speaks to children on one level, and adults on another, and it is a great deal more complicated than it appears on the surface. Unquestionably, the sheer sensation of flight has an endless allure, and there are other stunning sensations here, too, including being under water, on a pirate ship, or being surrounded by the dense vegetation of a tropical forest. But the intimacy and clarity of the human relationships, which is what ultimately makes any “Peter Pan” fully tick, sometimes gets blurred in this elaborate production.

In a real sense, “Peter Pan” is a story of captivity (whether by the demands of family life, the effects of psychological trauma or the presence of nasty pirates), and escape (whether through dreams, or eternal childishness or flight). And of course the male of the species is far more prone to escape than the female. ( Mr. Darling, the dad who “morphs” into Captain Hook — and is neatly played by Steven Pacey — is an insecure narcissist who feels undermined as master of his household and who fittingly ends up in the doghouse.) All men, Barrie tells us, are “lost boys.”

As for Peter (the very graceful if somewhat less than charismatic Ciaran Joyce), he is more or less controlled by Tinker Bell (Emily Yetter, a fearless flyer and winning comedienne), his jealous, punkish, female fairy alter ego. He also is very nervously enticed and frightened by the sexy Tiger Lily (Heidi Buehler, a terrific dancer), and fiercely determined to keep Wendy Darling (the lovely Evelyn Hoskins), confined to the role of mother, as opposed to romantic interest. Mothers are the objects of desire here; all other women are to be feared. Peter’s pals, the orphaned Lost Boys, are winningly played, with Darren Barrere, Lee Turnbull, Ben Adams and Keith Richards full of personality. The two-man Croc that haunts Hook is a delightful puppet creation. And the mermaids on silks (Amanda Goble and Kasumi Kato), slither beautifully on land and sea.

In a particularly deft touch, the show’s first act ends with Peter, alone on an island, thinking it might be a great adventure to die. By the end of the second act (which is far too long), he realizes it would be a great adventure “to live.” Of course it is too late for that. He will leave no “descendants.”

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