For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday

By Sarah Ruhl.

Directed by Jessica Thebus.

Produced by  Shattered Globe Theatre.

At Theater Wit, Chicago.

Underwritten family saga loses focus.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday is her very personal play honoring and stating her mother, Kathleen Ruhl. This 75 minute one-act tries to cover too much and accomplishes some things but presents as under written. Ruhl wants to discuss immortality in wake of the passage of time. Her piece covers the family at the death bed of their father. George (Doug McDade). Ann  (Kathleen Ruhl) and her sister Wendy (Eileen Niccolai) together with the three bothers John (H.B. Ward) and the two doctor/brothers Michael (Patrick Thornton) and Jim (Ben Werling) are trying to make their father comfortable as his death struggle plays out. The children send their love to their father.

Once their father passes, the five children have a wake at the family kitchen table with the help of Irish whiskey and water. The five reminisce about their father, his beliefs as a Depression-Era product and their relationships growing up. Ruhl presents the views of two doctors, three Clinton-Era Republican’s and a teacher of rhetoric – Ann as they live as middle-aged souls.

As the political, social and economic discussion, fueled by a bottle of Jameson, ignites the sibling rivalry that has long existed in the family heads in a strange direction. Ann remembers playing Peter Pan in Davenport, Iowa in 1958 then meeting Mary Martin. As the children talk about their youth, the question becomes: “When do you really become a grown-up? is there a moment that defines maturity? Or will you, like Peter Pan, “never wear a tie?

This is where Ruhl’s play becomes a tad thin. Does the magic of the Peter Pan myth still invade the beings even as they age? The final scenes, wherein the five playout Peter Pan and the lost boy’s imagination is a tad underdeveloped. The final scene muddles what resolution Ruhl is presenting. While the acting by this ensemble is first-rate, Kathleen Ruhl and the sharp work by Doug McDade was quite impressive. Taken as a whole, For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday is a near miss as it needs a clearer ending.

Somewhat Recommended.

Tom Williams

At Theater Wit, 1229 W.Belmont, Chicago, IL, call773-975-8150,, tickets $35, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 75  minutes without an intermission.

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