Review: ‘Pansy’ at New Conservatory Theatre Center

(Charles Kruger)

Rating: (*****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Pansy” plays at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through June 29, 2013).

If you’re looking for a theatre outing suitable for Pride weekend, look no further than Evan Johnson’s new solo play, “Pansy”, at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Mr. Johnson is an Artist in Residence with NCTC’s prestigious Emerging Artist Program, and has developed this new piece in collaboration with director Ben Randle. Together, they bring exceptionally strong professional skills to this interesting solo turn.

Mr. Johnson plays a young contemporary gay man in San Francisco (Michael) not unlike himself. Using the conceit of a box of memoranda found in the young man’s apartment, he explores the history of a 90s party boy, “Peter Pansy” (Peter Pan of course), who died of AIDs. Playing both roles, he invokes the history of gay San Francisco in the 90s and explores its effects on a new generation.

Johnson spent many hours interviewing folks who remember San Francisco in the 90s to create Peter Pansy and it was time well spent. His evocation of a 90s party boy is uncannily acurate. He manages to capture Peter’s desperation, his fear and his panic as well as his sharp intelligence, kept hidden under a facade of superficiality as he clings to his boyishness in an effort to ward off mortality. The piece makes exceptional use of Barrie’s imagery from the original “Peter Pan” as well as the charming score from the 1954 Broadway adaptation. Particularly effective is the use of the ticking crocodile as an image of mortality. Johnson has understood the dark undertow that is characteristic of Barrie’s play and has made good use of it. His “Peter Pansy” does a wonderful job of evoking the experience of a generation of “lost boys” facing their mortality in the midst of an out of control and fabulous party.

Evan Johnson stars in his solo play, "Pansy", at the  New Conservatory Theatre Center
Evan Johnson stars in his solo play, “Pansy”, at the New Conservatory Theatre Center

This piece is at its best when utilizing Johnson’s considerable circus and physical theatre skills, as when he performs a shadow play. It would benefit from more of this lighter material to pull against the deeper themes of loss and mortality. The piece suffers from too much repetition and not enough humor and lightness. At times, it seems as if Johnson and Randle want to call the audience’s attention to deeper themes unnecessarily—one wishes they would trust their audience a bit more to grasp implications without having everything spelled out.

Overall, this is a charming and at times very moving work that will no doubt improve in subsequent incarnations.

For further information, click here.

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“Peter Pansy”, a solo play by Evan Johnson, produced by the New Conservatory Theatre Center as part of the Emerging Artist Program. Director: Ben Randle. Video: Zack Kasten. Soundscape: Teddy Hulsker.

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