Among the first by a writer with Down syndrome, these two plays demonstrate an ability to riff and shift perspective, with disarming, hilarious, and occasionally heart-stopping results. Based on the iconic stories of King Arthur and Peter Pan, they are modern-day mash-ups that meld the fictional, the meta-fictional, and the real in ways that are counter-intuitive and absurd. And they’re musical! Both feature songs by beloved Vancouver musician Veda Hille, with lyrics by the playwrights.
King Arthur’s Night is a musical extravaganza in which King Arthur banters with Merlin and romances Guinevere. An upside-down world … a betrayed love … an unwanted child … a revolt by the subjugated masses … a kingdom come undone. It leaves one pondering mysteries both absurd (how did the Round Table get to Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia?) and profound (what is the link between the soul and intelligence?).
Peter Panties is a radical re-imagining of the Peter Pan story in which Peter Pan and Captain Hook (or is he Macbeth?) drink lattes, the Lost Boys hang with detectives from CSI, and Tinkerbell and Wendy duke it out at Skull Rock. Peter is conflicted about growing up – “Fuck that! No mustache!” – but he also desperately wants to have sex with Wendy and make a baby. The situation is funny, but aching; sexual exclusion and the denial of full adulthood are no laughing matters for people whose lives include Down syndrome.
McNeil’s singular voice and imaginative inner landscape are at the centre of these works, and in them entirely new worlds and languages are invented. Through dialogue and play, through the power of association, he subverts expectations. In these plays McNeil and Youssef challenge the classifications that “neurotypicals” presume must be the only legitimate means of perceiving and naming the world.