'Peter Pan' Shines in Black Light

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The new black-light version of "Peter Pan" is, well, incandescent.

To some, the idea behind this touring show by the Black Light Theatre of Prague will sound farfetched at best: an adaptation of J.M. Barrie's children's classic performed via ultraviolet illumination. In the arts, after all, black light is best known as the companion technology for flocked posters.

So it's a pleasure to report that director-composer Jiri Srnec created a fully realized stage work, an enchanting blend of ballet, puppetry and story theater Tuesday night at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (The show moves to Orange Coast College tonight.)

The familiar tale is told through visuals without words. Black light serves that purpose doubly. Inside the fake proscenium, props seemed bathed in an eerie, fluorescent enamel, underscoring the dreamlike nature of Barrie's childhood parable. More important, the unusual beams make possible a pair of black-costumed "invisible performers"(Daniela Cencova and Josef Neuman).

Thus spring all sorts of upstage legerdemain guaranteed to wow parents as well as kids. Beds levitate and boys fly with more conviction here than in other stage versions. The optical effects extend to an impressive array of collapsible props, including a grandfather clock that magically folds out into a four-poster bed.

Srnec's whimsical woodwind-and-synthesizer score contributes mightily to the effect, as does the energetic, nearly gymnastic choreography.

Jaroslava Stranska and Monika Mrnkova make a cherubic Michael and John, respectively, nicely counterbalanced by Katerina Rejmanova's balletic grace as Wendy. Zdenek Chupik plays the impious title character and Vladimir Kubicek is Capt. Hook.

Admittedly, the Czechoslovakian troupe has an unusual approach to a tested classic. But this "Peter Pan" will keep the kids entertained--and it's a pretty cool show for grown-ups too.

* Black Light Theatre of Prague's "Peter Pan" will be presented at 8 p.m. tonight at Robert B. Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. $8-$16. (714) 432-5880. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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