Elizabeth Egloff Pens Peter Pan

DEC 12, 1997

How Elizabeth Egloff came to this adaptation.

This winter the American Repertory Theater will present Peter Pan and Wendy, a re-telling of J.M. Barrie’s novel about the boy who wouldn’t grow up. It has long been a dream of director Marcus Stern to adapt this book for the stage, and playwright Elizabeth Egloff has been brought on board to help make this dream into a reality. Stern and Egloff met while both were students at the Yale School of Drama. They have not worked together since 1989, when Stern directed the first production of Egloff’s The Swan, which has since been given numerous productions throughout the United States and abroad. Egloff knew that Stern had wanted to produce a new version of Peter Pan since their days at Yale and immediately accepted the offer to adapt the script for a production at the A.R.T.

Since graduating from Yale, Egloff has been able to support herself through playwriting. She has received several awards, including the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Foundation Writer’s Award, the Oppenheimer Award, and the Kesselring Prize, as well as grants from the Fund for New American Plays, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, AT&T, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Arts, the Pew Charitable Trust, and the McKnight Foundation.

Egloff came to the theater relatively late in life. During her undergraduate years, she did not read plays or attend theatrical performances. Instead, she concentrated on poetry. While working toward a graduate degree at Brown, she took a playwriting course to open up her poetry. The course was a positive experience, and she eventually pursued a double concentration in playwriting and poetry. After graduating from Brown, she worked with the New Voices Theatre and taught screenwriting and adaptation at Emerson College in Boston. In 1986, she applied to the Yale School of Drama. She remembers, “I had thought that if they accept me, that means that I can be a playwright. Luckily, I got in.”

Other plays by Egloff include The Devils, The LoverWolf-Man and PhaedraThe Devils, an adaptation of Dostyevsky’s political novel, recently premiered at New York Theatre Workshop and won the Weissberger Prize.

“The script I am writing now is . . . true to the spirit of J.M. Barrie’s original novel. Barrie’s novel owes something to the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland [as well as] to a Victorian sense of middle-class morality and the Bloomsbury crowd. So there is at times a level of irony about what constitutes middle-class morality. And I think the play is an exploration of Peter Pan as an outsider. Sometimes he is James Dean. Many things go into this character.”

This production will differ strikingly from the Broadway production audiences expect when they hear the name Peter Pan. The Peter Pan that will fly across the A.R.T.’s stage is more complex and more aware of his predicament than the well-known Mary Martin portrayal. “It is darker in some places,” Egloff notes. “But in others it may be unexpectedly funny. Ultimately a story about love and faithfulness and family.

Jennifer Kiger is a first-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training.

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