Darlings (Critic's Pick)

So what happened to the parents of the Darling children after they flew off to Neverland with Peter Pan? That’s the question poignantly explored in Darlings.

So what happened to the parents of the Darling children after they flew off to Neverland with Peter Pan? That’s the question poignantly explored in Darlings, presented by NYC-based Animal Engine Theatre Company through the beautifully realized performances of its founders, Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown. The tone is set immediately as the audience enters the theater: for 15 minutes, Muasher stands under an umbrella, practically motionless, holding a flyer hoping for information about his missing children while his wife (Brown) sits on a child’s bed staring out a dark, open window. Once the action begins, we’re given snapshots of loss and guilt: The parents simply wanted to go out to dinner down the street. The father had tied up the dog that normally would have watched over the children. And now a year has gone by and the children have not returned. The parents struggle to communicate, speaking in disconnected fragments, trying but failing to reclaim a “normal” life.Then, almost suddenly, we’re plunged into the Peter Pan story, not as a fairy tale, but as a way for a grief-stricken mother to explain the unexplainable — the loss of her children. Muasher and Brown describe their company as “physical devised theater,” and it’s completely clear why. Through constant and creative reconfiguring of a few simple platforms and costume pieces, the actors’ physicality allows them to plunge into a remarkably clever reenactment of the Peter Pan story. I won’t spoil the experience by describing the many, many high points (although you should particularly watch for how Tinkerbell is realized). But it’s a tribute to their skill and sharp, simple choices that the audience is never confused and is delighted all the way.To some extent, they haven’t completely balanced the material. The Peter Pan play-within-a-play was so good that they consistently elicited appreciative laughter from the audience, which seemed oddly inappropriate in the context of the parents’ grief. It also seemed that Muasher too willingly plunged into the fantasy, almost forgetting how much his wife was suffering. But eventually the fantasy play was bookended by the “real” one, and it all made sense in a very sad way. Peter Pan is often called a metaphor for the reality of growing up from a child’s point of view. In the same way, Darlings extends the metaphor to the loss experienced by parents when their children grow up and eventually leave home. Muasher and Brown make it a simple and powerful message. And it’s almost a certainty that audience members will never again look at the Peter Pan story in quite the same way.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.