For a short time last night, I was watching the NBC Live Spectacle which was Peter Pan.
I was struck by how angular Allison Williams looked as Peter Pan.
This is odd, since she is, of course, a woman playing a boy.
Of course, Peter Pan came out of the panto or Holiday Pantomime tradition in England–as did Twelfth Night. Greek drama grew out of religious festivals honoring Dionysius, but British Comedy came out of the Topsy-turvy reversal of roles that was part of Saturnalia.
Because of this, servants playing masters and masters acting as servants, as well as men playing women and women playing men was part of the fun.
Most likely, however, Barrie cast a young woman because the law would not allow a young boy to work at night.
All this aside, I began to wonder if there is an odd cultural expectation of how a woman playing a boy should look. This may shed light on our image of boys, but more likely, it reflects our view of women’s bodies, and the expectation of how curvy or thin they were expected to be.
I have seen three different women play Pan on TV, and strangely enough, Ms Williams was the thinnest. Of course, nobody today could imagine a stage or screen or TV Peter Pan who looked like Zena Dare at right, as she looked as Peter Pan in 1907.
The TV Peter Pans began before I was born, of course, with Mary Martin, first in 1955, then again in 1960. She had originated the role on Broadway–as she had so many.
She took a break from doing The Sound of Music on Broadway to come in and do Peter Pan in 1960.
Next was Sandy Duncan.
I remember being amazed at how thin this woman was. Of course, it was the time of the ultra-thin model Twiggy, and youth was much cooler than looking maternal and curvy.
Being trim and even boyish was pretty sexy, but, strangely enough, she is still more curvy than Ms Williams.
Next was Cathy Rigby.
She may have been shorter than the others. Remarkably, though, she wqas the most athletic of them all, and the most muscular. It is odd: we think of Olympic gymnasts–she was in the 1968 Olympics–as delicate, gossamer things, but she brings the biggest thigh muscles to the role (amazing jumping, too).
I’m not quite sure what to make of Ms Allison’s Peter.
I had thought we had gotten over the ultra-thin ideal, but she is a rather typical TV star. She also appears to go to the gym, because she has very clearly defined arms.
Mostly, she seems skinny to me.
And her teeth are so, so white!
Well: Judge for yourself:
Of course, most of all, I was spoiled because, as far as trouser roles go, Peter Pan could not hold a candle to the youth Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
Especially, as played by the amazing Isabel Leonard.
That show is further complicated by Cherubino having to dress up as a girl to sneak out of the countess’s bedroom (long, long story–got 3 hours?). This means a woman dressing up as a boy dressing up like a girl.
Of course, in Shakespeare, one of my favorite characters is Rosalind. She would have been played by a boy, but at one point is a girl (Rosalind) pretending to be a boy (Ganymede), who then pretends to be a girl (Rosalind again–the love interest Orlando appears to be as dumb as a bag of hammers). 4 way gender crossing.
Of course, Helen Mirren was pretty good in the role in the day, even if only a 3 way.
Maybe I should have taken those last 3 credits and gotten that Women’s Studies specialization.