Flying Lessons 

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The first thing my 8-year-old daughter said about Theatre IV's "Peter Pan" was, "They could have gotten a younger person to play Peter." Peter Pan is fiction's eternal boy, historically rarely played by a boy. So it's an established tradition that Theatre IV casts Ford Flannagan, 52 as Peter in its production of J.M. Barrie's classic play.

But Flannagan is wonderful in the role, a slight, sprightly man with a youthful spirit. He convincingly pulls off the exaggerated confidence, physical agility and pendulum-swinging emotions of a child. But to small children who perceive even teenagers to be grown up, the casting choice may seem odd. Of course, Mary Martin played Pan on Broadway well into her 50s, so it's not an unusual choice. But maybe, just maybe, it's a missed opportunity to give a younger actor a chance at such a plum role.

One of the most fun aspects of the show, naturally, is the flying. At one point R. Cooper Timberline (son of Style theater critic David Timberline) as Michael Darling thinks of Christmas and pops into the air like a cork shot from a champagne bottle, earning squeals from envious kids in the audience. ZFX Flying Effects, an international expert in theatrical flying, was hired to plan, execute and train both actors and crew on the rigging used to make Peter and the children fly. The result is fantastic.

The entire production is thoroughly enchanting, but Robert Throckmorton's Captain Hook steals the show. He's sensationally wicked gliding gracefully across the stage in a modified tango while plotting to poison Peter. He makes kids in the audience squirm with delighted fright during a duel with Peter while he shouts villainous things like "Proud and impudent youth, meet your doom!" Throckmorton is so into this role that during an accidental blackout onstage, he stayed tightly in character and improvised a Hook-sounding line to cover the incident, making the mishap work in the story.

Peter will be a boy forever, but at Theatre IV only until May 18. Then Flannagan gets to grow up again. S

Theatre IV's "Peter Pan" at the Empire Theatre runs through May 18. Tickets are $24-$32. Call 344-8040 or visit www.theatreivrichmond.org.

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