Mischief, the popular British theater company that specializes in whimsical fiascos, are back at the Ahmanson Theater with Peter Pan Goes Wrong, an even more spectacular and clumsy performance than the troupe’s earlier hit, The Play Goes Wrong, which came after Los Angeles came in 2019.
This is meant as a compliment. The premise of these offerings is that we are seeing a production by an amateur theater company that is grossly underfunded and disastrously underrehearsed. The piece is not the thing, but merely the pretext for a catastrophe.
The Murder at Haversham Manor, the crime thriller that gives rise to The Play That Goes Wrong, illustrates the detective nature of the pitfalls and mishaps. But in the end, the plot is lost in chaos. JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” sets the stage for a slew of costume disasters and air disasters that make up the main act of “Peter Pan Goes Wrong.”
Written by cast members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the show came to Los Angeles straight from Broadway. But that’s not what anyone would call a prestige hit. This low-key fun is only intended to restore your child’s sense of play.
Theatergoers never seem to tire of watching the performers make fools of themselves. Nothing is funnier than a theatrical failure, as the roaring hilarity at the Ahmanson Theater would suggest. A psychologist might combine the fear of public speaking with the joy of watching others humiliate themselves on stage. It’s amazing how easily our worst fears turn into our heartiest laughter.
This comedy genre has a long and distinguished history. Shakespeare’s rude mechanics, the group of rural workers who pool their meager theatrical talents to put on a play in honor of the royal wedding, are for many the comic climax of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I’m as prone to silliness as anyone, but Shakespeare wisely sets limits on the extent of theatrical bungling. Mischief serves up huge entrees of this kind of comedy, and after the first few courses of a multi-course meal, I’m full.
The kindergarten The scene in the Darling residence, where Peter Pan flies through the nursery window and lures Wendy, Michael and John to Neverland, offers a wide range of impending mishaps. Magic is no guarantee of safety here.
The dog Nana is played by an actor (Lewis) who is too tall to fit through the dog flap. The same actor also plays Peter Pan’s shadow, opening up a whole new range of grandeur jokes. (Beware of the bunk beds.)
The newcomer who plays John Darling (Sayer) has to run his lines through a headset that’s constantly picking up random radio stations and backstage communications that he innocently parrots. And think of the poor actress (Nancy Zamit) who is forced to make logistically impossible costume changes as she alternates between the Darlings’ maid and Mrs. Darling.
The actors who play Wendy (Charlie Russell) and Peter (Greg Tannahill) have a crush on each other, fueling jealousies within the company and turning a supposed family show into an inappropriately hot affair. Chris (Shields), president of the theater company and director of this mess, plays both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, turning the father into a smug bully and the pirate into a rude stage villain who enjoys blaming the audience for his lack as thanks for the hard work that went into the performance.
Props are lacking, leaving inadequate substitutes to improvise, and simple stage actions like tying a tie become unexpectedly dangerous. But it’s the flight that threatens to call an ambulance to the music center. The ropes used to hoist Peter Pan are stretched across the top of the set, completely ignoring the poor actor’s head. (Amateur theater of this kind should actually be a helmet sport.)
Directed by Adam Meggido, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is meticulously choreographed and no doubt every precaution has been taken to protect the actors. How the actors throw themselves around like their characters without hurting themselves became the main interest of the production for me over time.
Even the narrator, played by a guest actor, must deftly avoid becoming a victim as his moving chair becomes more uncooperative with each passage. Bradley Whitford, who occupies the role until August 27 (Daniel Dae Kim takes over the role on August 30), plunges into the role like a bold running back. It should be said that this is a running back who also happens to be a three-time Emmy Award winner. At one point, Whitford takes the stage with his trophies to remind everyone that he’s not just a hired clown.
Simon Scullion’s living, thin stage design is designed to tremble and collapse. In the dizzying finale, a turntable full of sets spirals out of control. The Neverland Forest, the pirate ship and the garden center merge into one nonsensical setting.
My interest in the failed process waned, but my admiration for the performers remained high. Especially praiseworthy is Zamit, who, alongside Mrs. Darling and the housekeeper, plays, among other things, a Tinkerbell that is too zafig to be able to fly. (The gags around the perimeter are dated but part of the series’ British pantomime roots.)
Shields takes great delight in playing Hook, continuing the character’s traditional booing with derogatory remarks to the audience. While he spends almost an eternity opening a bottle with his hook, he exchanges sharp words with viewers. The audience is spoiled with some excitement even before the show starts, while the artists stroll through the hall and talk smackingly to everyone’s delight.
It’s August and our brains are sluggish if not completely shut down. “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” wouldn’t be my pick for a theatrical beach read, but the ensemble members of Mischief are masters of their failed craft.
“Peter Pan makes a mistake”
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., LA
When: Tuesday to Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (Watch out for exceptions.) Ends September 10th
Tickets: Start at $40
The information: (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org
Duration: 2 hours, 5 minutes