‘Never-Ever Land’ offers a night full of light-hearted laughter at Awesome Theatre

Man dressed in green costume holding a beer bottle looks and points into camera while leaning in as other people in costumes hold him back.
Awesome Theater /Courtesy

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On Feb. 7, Awesome Theatre premiered “Never-Ever Land,” which follows modernized renditions of characters from the famous “Peter Pan.” Written by Sang Kim and directed by Claire Rice, the play features iconic characters such as Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell. Each makes memorable appearances throughout the performance, which is filled with confessions of love, hilarious flashbacks and unexpected guests.

Throughout the play, Peter (Matt Gunnison) pines after his ex-girlfriend Wendy (Marissa Clarke Howard), throwing a drunken fit beneath her window while Captain James Hook (Charles Lewis III) mediates. During this encounter, Peter goes through a surreal journey of self-discovery.

Despite the cozy quarters of the venue, Awesome Theatre successfully manages to create a deceptively simple, yet extremely dynamic, set. For convenience and fluidity, many props have various functions, and most are unrestrained and mobile. For instance, two large, rectangular planks on wheels are painted differently on each side — one side depicts the bricks of the wall beneath Wendy’s window and the other shows a flying ship later used to illustrate a scene in “Peter Pan.” Set changes (which mostly indicate flashbacks) consist of just flipping these wooden panels. This clever use of space and versatile props is admirable and surprisingly intriguing.

The script of “Never-Ever Land” aroused thundering laughter from the audience Feb. 7. The spiteful banter between Peter and Wendy that Kim wrote into one scene was hilarious. The chemistry between Clarke-Howard and Gunnison was electric, and the actors’ deliveries were acutely polished.

Later in the play, in the midst of his tantrum, Peter accuses Wendy of leaving him for another man. Wendy subsequently takes Peter into a flashback of the moment that she decided to break up with him. The fight that gradually escalates between them in the restaurant is extremely realistic, a further testament to the comedic strength of the actors onstage. In this scene, Wendy passive aggressively mutters under her breath about Peter’s attitude, while Peter slowly but surely loses his patience. The couple’s battle for dominance is so petty yet so relatable.

Another standout comedic scene in the play occurs at the restaurant when Peter, Wendy, Hook and Tinkerbell (Rana Rines) fight over the bill. This comical dialogue lasts for several minutes before a waitress (Amy Bui) starts to vent about the amount of trouble the group has caused her. Bui’s calmly expressed but nonetheless sizzling sarcasm is severely entertaining. The waitress’ sass effectively shuts down the group’s squabble, and the four of them quietly submit to her demands with strained expressions. The juxtaposition of the argument with this monologue is extremely satisfying — the childish conflict is cleanly cleared up by the waitress’ tactful delivery.

Another greatly appreciated aspect of the script is its verisimilitude. In order to emphasize the modernity of this rendition of a children’s story, Kim often has the characters comment on contemporary music, science fiction and theater. References to The Cranberries, the Klingon language from “Star Trek,” Uta Hagen and other details not only ground this production in the deep understanding of popular culture — but they also succeed in maintaining the audience’s attention throughout the show.

“Never-Ever Land” is packed with side stories and tangents that spin off in Peter’s inebriated mind., and they are all absolutely entertaining. Seemingly random and bizarre at first, these B-sides come together neatly in Peter’s journey to win back Wendy’s heart and, subsequently, to discover more about himself. Such coordination and coherence are difficult to execute but through creative set changes, engaging dialogue and quirky characters, Awesome Theatre efficiently guides the audience through a magical and humorous night.

Never-Ever Land’ will be playing at Awesome Theatre in San Francisco through March 28.

Contact Sophie Kim at [email protected].