Jeff Jardine

Actress has bad break as Peter Pan

As favors go, Wendy owes Peter Pan big time.

Saturday night, during the final dress rehearsal of the Modesto Performing Arts production, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee and the rest of their motley crew were about to send Wendy off the plank and to the sharks when, as the script would have it, Peter Pan came to the rescue.

Except that something went horribly awry during the infamous sword-fighting scene. Instead of flying to the upper deck of the massive pirate ship onstage in the Modesto High auditorium, Randi Lineé, portraying Peter, smashed into one of the set's support posts. The impact was sickening. Her left arm whipped around the post like a rope. It bent in a most unnatural way.

"I could hear the bones snap," Lineé said.

She was lowered to the stage floor, her arm dangling and broken in three places. Sunday, instead of playing her dream role, the role for which she'd shed 34 pounds by hiring a personal trainer at her own expense, she had surgery to have her arm bones screwed back together.

"The doctor said I should be perfect again in three months," Lineé said from her hospital bed at Doctors Medical Center. But within two weeks, the show will have gone on without her. Understudy Heather Hernandez will play Peter when the play resumes Friday in a special performance for schoolchildren, including more than 200 from Modesto's University Charter School, where Lineé teaches music.

So what went so wrong? Call it human error, a breakdown in communication between two young men manning the ropes of the flying apparatus, director Paul Tischer said. One, a college student, controlled Lineé's vertical movement. The other, a high schooler, controlled her ability to soar across the stage.

The flying gear itself came from ZFX, a company renowned in show biz for having provided the equipment for former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby's portrayal of Peter. The company sent trainers to teach the stagehands how to use it, and the cast had put in more than 18 hours practicing with it.

With a few exceptions -- Lineé bouncing off a wall here or there, and landing hard on her feet once -- the rehearsals had gone OK. But this time, as Peter came to save Wendy from becoming shark food, Lineé was supposed to land on a box, leap to her marks on the stage floor, and bound onto the plank itself while sword-fighting Hook. Then she'd fly high above the stage, landing on the poop deck.

Instead, she alighted well off her mark, realized it, and tried to run for the spot to remain on cue and in sequence. That's when the miscommunication between the stagehands occurred. One of them said, "Don't go," meaning don't jump off the second or third rung of a 10-foot ladder, using his weight to counterbalance Lineé and propel her through the air. The second hand heard only the "go" part and jumped.

It sent her flying backward toward the support masts of the ship. She spun toward one of the masts, completing the turn just as she hit it full force. She broke her arm and shattered the heavy wood pole.

"I said, 'Oh, it's broken,' " Lineé said. "Half the cast thought I was talking about the support (pole). The other half thought I was talking about my neck. I was just dangling, looking at it (the arm)."

By pure coincidence, one cast member is a paramedic. The father of a cast member works at Doctors Medical Center, and he attended that rehearsal. One observer that night is an emergency room nurse.

"They all rushed right over to me and immediately knew what to do," said Lineé, who entered the hospital wearing her Peter Pan costume, microphone and flying harness. Ray Leverett, the paramedic-actor, brought her in while still in his pirate's garb.

In the aftermath, the accident brings into question whether a high school student should be placed in such a crucial job backstage, bearing the responsibility for the actor's safety in the potentially dangerous flying scenes.

Tischer said he will continue to use high schoolers, as he has for most of the 40 years he's been with Modesto Performing Arts.

"The kids had rehearsed four or five times since the previous week," Tischer said. "It was nothing they did wrong (physically). It was a miscommunication of words."

Risks often accompany show business, said Tischer, who pointed out that Mary Martin, who played Peter on stage and screen, endured falls and once broke her wrist on stage.

"(Theater) is no different than any other industry," he said. "Look at construction -- it has its own unique accidents. We've been doing this for 40 years and it's the first big, or somewhat big, accident we've ever had."

To Lineé, 29, it's really big. It's the role she's dreamed of playing her entire life, and sacrificed greatly for when the chance finally came. She endured physical and financial difficulty to lose the weight to play Peter Pan.

Now, while the show goes on without her, she's got a bunch of screws in her arm and a question she'd like answered.

"They say things happen for a reason," Lineé said. "One of these days, I'd like to know that reason."

Instead, she can take pride in the fact that she stayed in character until the very end.

"One of Peter Pan's lines in the opening scenes is, 'I'll never cry.' I didn't cry."

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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