Whether she’s a speck of light or a fairy in green, Tinker Bell is an indispensable character, first appearing in J. M. Barrie‘s 1904 “Peter Pan” and its novelization, “Peter and Wendy.”
She was also in multiple film and television adaptations of the Peter Pan stories – including the 1953 Walt Disney animated film “Peter Pan” – besides being the unofficial mascot of the Disney Company.
Tinker Bell is considered Peter’s sidekick, necessary but not sufficient to carry the story.
Except, that is, in “Tinker Bell,” a world premiere by local playwright Patrick Flynn at Adventure Theatre MTC.
“It takes a character – relegated to an appendage to Peter – and looks at the whole story from her point of view,” said Nick Olcott, the director. “The play doesn’t begin and end with Peter Pan.”
The backstory explores what Tinker Bell (Michelle Polera) is getting out of the friendship with Peter (Carlos Castilo) and why she “does such a vicious thing” as to try to kill Wendy – one of the visitors to Neverland.
The usual interpretation, in the Disney movie and the stage/screen version with Mary Martin, is romantic – Tinker Bell is jealous of Wendy and wants to get rid of a rival.
“Tinker Bell” the play brings a new understanding to her motivation. “We’re to understand that because fairies are so small, they can only contain one emotion at a time. She doesn’t understand for example, how if she and Peter are angry at each other how they can still be friends. She learns that we all have mixed feelings.”
“Tinker Bell is confused by what she sees as Peter’s betrayal and rejection, as he becomes close with Wendy,” Olcott explained
The playwright also draws a parallel between the Tinker Bell/Peter Pan friendship and that between Smee, Captain Hook’s sidekick, and the nasty one-handed pirate chief.
“Sometimes he really hates the Captain, but they still need each other,” Olcott said.
Polera loves the “honesty” of working in children’s theater – “kids won’t lie to you,” she said – and also the writing of Patrick Flynn. “It works for children, and connects to adult audiences really well. It’s a different take on an iconic figure. Peter Pan was one of my favorites when I was a kid.”
At the time of this interview, Polera, in her Adventure Theatre debut, didn’t know what her costume was going to be. She did know Tinker Bell will have “a more-human personality” than usual.
Key to any Peter Pan – or Tinker Bell – production, if course, is the ability to fly, and to fight.
Both aspects of the play are in the hands of Jenny Male, the movement and fight choreographer.
Since the actors have no wires, Male spent some time thinking about how to make the flying look authentic.
“What we decided to do is that when the character flies for the first time, he or she gets a lift from others – after being sprinkled with fairy dust,” Male said. “I’m also working with the actors on having ‘flying arms. Moreover, “each character has a different lift that reflects his or her personality.”
This was Carlos Castillo’s first experience with sword fighting. It helped that Male’s husband, Elliott Dash, the Captain Hook of the production, “has done a lot of it.”
In the end, though, it’s not technical effects or choreography that count. “We hope we look at the faces of the kids in the audience, light up with joy,” said Male. “They make their own magic.”
“Tinker Bell” runs June 22 through August 19 at Adventure Theatre, 7300 McArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, and is recommended for all ages. For more information, visit the theater’s website at www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org.
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