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Clap If You Believe 

Canyon Community Theater nails Peter Pan

No offense to Sandy Duncan, but a middle-aged woman in tights is not what I pictured when I first read Peter Pan. Disney's cartoon was much closer to the mark, but the animated rogue had a plastic confidence that took away from the soul of the original story. I always wanted to see a Pan who wasn't so sure of himself, a more overbearing Wendy and a Hook who could fight with a seven-iron ... Well, maybe not that last one, at least not till I saw Canyon Community Theater's big summer production.

As spectators nestled in the grass and carved stone of Albertson College's outdoor amphitheater, fairies in full glitter darted through the trees, sound techs prepped the P.A. system with sweaty fervor and co-director Ron Torres reclined on the hill like a mermaid basking in the Neverland sun. I already knew he was an Albertson alum with years of performance experience (hence the eerie calm), but I had no idea how much of his life is devoted to education, outreach and therapeutic silliness. He explained that three years ago, the Western Canyon County Youth and Farm Coalition did a survey to determine what the community most lacked in the way of summer programs. The results pointed to theater, an art medium known to cultivate camaraderie, maturity and poise.

Torres helped get things going as a volunteer and has since taken on the full-time job of directing outreach programs for at-risk children and running a community theater company that is quickly gaining support from young participants and sponsors alike.

"These kids could be watching movies or hanging out, but instead they work all night on the set. It's really impeccable," Torres said. "My job is to teach them about acting but also to present social topics. We chose this play because it mirrors their lives on a lot of levels--it's about 'lost boys,' children caught up in a reckless world, and these are the kids I work with everyday."

As Torres stepped up to introduce the show, he noticed a ladder propped against the set. Rather than discreetly remove it, he pointed it out and shared a chuckle with the audience. Such candor and comical embracing of flaws was in keeping with the play's overall feel--endearingly amateur, honest and fun. The set was comprised of hand-painted facades and donated props, and the young actors made brilliant use of both these and the amphitheater's natural aesthetics (think giant boulders and shrubbery). The stunt choreography was skillful (most notably the climatic fight scene between Hook (Brian Snyder) and Pan (Joey La Pierre), and the ad-libbing was inventive and cute.

"The biggest challenge was throwing total amateurs into the toughest performance atmosphere there is--outdoors in-the-round," said Torres. "That's like putting them in a boiling pot and throwing garlic on top, making it really stinky, but these kids stepped up to the plate."

Part of their motivation was resident den-mother/costume mistress/ co-director, Tracey Calascione, a red-haired dynamo who has performed on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera stage in addition to raising five children (two of whom are in the play). When asked how working with kids in a rural burg compared to singing for thousands in world-famous venues, Calascione didn't pause.

"This is definitely more satisfying. These are the up-and-coming stars of the future, and there's something so rewarding about seeing their faces when they're done and knowing their lives have changed. Some don't even know how to talk to people when they show up, and they leave with friends and a sense of accomplishment. They know they have done something amazing."

Aside from the occasional and understandable flub (I hope Tiger Lily recovers from her pirate-induced concussion), CCT's Pan is a great way to spend a Friday evening. I was expecting desperate facsimiles of Disney archetypes, but instead, I watched young comedians create their own characters and a visual full of energy and improvisation. Although I missed all the months of preparation and struggle, I got what Calascione meant when the actors took their bows. Their eyes shone in the dusky light, and just like Tink, applause seemed to bring them to life.

Peter Pan

6:30 p.m., August 5, 6, 7 and 2 p.m. August 8

Albertson College Amphitheatre, Caldwell

$6 adults, $3 children/seniors, tickets at 454-8999.

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