A heartbreaking and engaging ‘Lost Boy’ at Colonial Players

A part-fantasy, part-reality bioplay about 'Peter Pan' author J.M. Barrie.

The Colonial Players of Annapolis continue their season with The Lost Boy, a part-fantasy, part-reality exploration of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s tumultuous backstory. The play, written by Ronald Gabriel Paolillo and directed by Joe Thompson, begins with the tragic event that spurred Barrie’s interest in “lost boys” — the sudden and untimely death of his 13-year-old brother, David (affectionately referred to as “Davey”).

Rick Estberg as James Barrie begins at this traumatic event as a six-year-old boy. Estberg has the range to convincingly inhabit Barrie’s memories, illuminating the origins of his strained relationship with his mother, Margaret (Shannon Benil). Much of the emotional impact of this play is carried by Benil, who is devastating in the heartwrenching things she says to Barrie as well as sympathetic in her grief. The relationship between Barrie and Margaret in the wake of Davey’s death is played out satisfyingly, with the bulk of the story following James on a trip back to his hometown of Kirriemuir, Scotland, after some successes as a writer in London.

Rick Estberg as James Barrie and Lesley Miller as Maureen O’Rourke in ‘The Lost Boy.’ Photo by Brandon Bentley.

When James returns home, he strikes up a friendship with Maureen O’Rourke (Lesley Miller), the wife of the local pub keep. Miller is compellingly fascinated with Barrie as Maureen. The “will-they-won’t-they” nature of the relationship between her character and Barrie is one of the stronger dramatic threads. Scott Sanders plays her chummy and morally questionable husband, Sean, with aplomb.

Much of the play takes place in fantasy sequences. Chase Nester is both young Davey and Peter Pan. He’s a strong actor and carries much of the unfolding fantasy as Barrie develops the lore of Neverland. Katia Rini, Emma Miller, and Abigail Traverson play the fairy inhabitants of Neverland (among other roles), flitting around as they support Edd Miller’s Old Crow, who raises Peter Pan until he’s old enough to go off on his own adventures.

Most of the actors play multiple roles, moving between the real-life story and the fantasy world that Barrie is creating. Miller’s Old Crow becomes Captain Hook, then actor Gerald du Maurier. Megan Henderson, a biting and sarcastic Tinker Bell, also becomes by turns James Barrie’s eternally unsatisfied wife, Mary. This arrangement works well, and everyone in the cast handles the transitions admirably.

Edd Miller as Captain Hook and Megan Henderson as Tinker Bell in ‘The Lost Boy.’ Photos by Brandon Bentley.

The designers are also to be commended for pulling off such a complex show in the Colonial Players’ unique performance space. Edd Miller, who is also the set designer in addition to his many roles, created moveable pieces that dot the landscape. At one moment a set piece may be a coffin; the next, a table. Director Joe Thompson did a great job of keeping the lines clear, and there is never any confusion during these transitions. Costume Designer Linda Ridge’s nimble abilities also take us from the late 19th century to the fantasy realm of Neverland.

The Colonial Players have brought a compelling production to their stage. Especially interesting were the aspects of the play that explore the psychological underpinnings of Barrie’s fantasy worlds. I admit, I went into this show thinking that there couldn’t be much else to learn about Peter Pan — how wrong I was! With its strong acting and creative design, The Lost Boy is a must-see show on this treasured Annapolis stage.

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Lost Boy plays through March 6, 2022, at The Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. Tickets ($23 regular adult; $18 student, senior, and military) can be purchased online.

COVID Safety: The Colonial Players require face masks to be properly worn by everyone at all times, regardless of vaccination status.


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