August 12, 2023 | By Bruce R. Feldman
“Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, Aug. 8 - Sept. 10, 2023
In Brief: An amateur theatrical troupe presents their version of the J. M. Barrie classic Peter Pan. What could go right?
Many years ago, I saw Rodney Dangerfield perform in Las Vegas. Pulling at his collar frequently and looking mildly uncomfortable – his characteristic demeanor – he delivered a rapid-fire barrage of jokes, one right after the other, barely waiting for laughs between gags.
It was a virtuosic recital. And it was hilarious. Stupid for the most part, but sidesplittingly funny.
Here’s an example of what I heard that night:
“I took my kid to Coney Island last week. I gave him $20. I said, ‘Do what you want.’ He took a cab home.”
“I took my kid to Coney Island last week. I said, ‘Do you want to go to the Crazy House?’ He said, ‘What for? We’ll be home in an hour.’”
If you laughed at these jokes, you are going to love Peter Pan Goes Wrong, a brisk and raucous farce that opened at The Ahmanson last night.
It’s the latest zany effort from England’s Mischief Company, the group of inventive writers and performers behind that other topsy-turvy amusement, The Play That Goes Wrong.
The play’s title tells you everything you need to know about the plot and the satire that materializes from it.
Flying mishaps. Check! Doors that stick. Check! Costume malfunctions. Check! Missing props. Check! Actors who bumble lines. Check! A full-figured Tinker Belle. Double check!
This is all done to theatrical perfection thanks to a brilliantly uninhibited, energetic cast and a team of behind-the-scenes stagehands, electricians, and designers who execute every screwy, flawlessly timed bit.
Standouts in the cast include Henry Lewis (as, among others, Nana, the Darling’s nursemaid dog), Jonathan Sayer (as John Darling), and Henry Shields (as Captain Hook). These three protean talents also wrote the piece.
Also especially memorable is Nancy Zamit, doing riotously funny triple duty as Mrs. Darling, the Darlings' maid Anna, and a zoftig Tinker Belle.
Finally, Bradley Whitford guest stars as the evening’s narrator, goofily bumbling and fumbling his lines while injecting witty anachronisms from time to time. (Bet you did not know that Peter Pan supports the SAG-AFTRA strike.) Daniel Dae Kim replaces Whitford in the last two weeks of the run.
None of this is going to win a Pulitzer Prize in drama. You won't be reflecting on the authors' true intentions or discussing the play's subtext at your next book club meeting. And the jokes are obvious and well worn.
Still, it’s fine frenzied family entertainment throughout and a welcome summer night diversion from the world’s harsh realities.
We can all appreciate and be thankful for that.
“Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org