It is surprising, even to myself, that I have never seen a full on, fly “straight on to morning” production of the classic Peter Pan. Not on stage, not on television, and not even the 1953 Disney cartoon that basically introduced most children of a certain age to the tale of the young boy who doesn’t want to grown up. These focused on Peter Pan, but here in Bedlam’s creation, the focal point seems to be Wendy, the girl who is at first enchanted by Peter, but ultimately disappointed by the young boy who is trying his hardest to hide away from responsibility, love, and maturity. An American psychologist Dr. Dan Kiley in 1983 used this character to name and construct a psychological syndrome describing a certain type of man/child in his 1983 book, ‘The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up’. In 1984, he expanded on the theme with his female-centric book, ‘The Wendy Dilemma’ addressing a certain complex regarding women who were drawn to these “Peter Pans” romantically regardless of what they know and see. In some odd, messy, and peculiar way, Bedlam’s brave take on the Peter Pan story tries in earnest to weave together the two by exploring the relationship between this particular Wendy and her Peter Pan. It’s a mashup of psychoanalytic proportions with a childlike view of fantasy, story-telling, and imagination. Unfortunately Bedlam and director/sound designer/artistic director, Eric Tucker fail on a number of levels to make a cohesive story and an intellectual argument come together in a unified vision. The theorem is swallowed up whole, like the ticking clock inside Caption Hook’s nemesis, but unlike the tick tick inside the crocodile, it does not manage to warn us in advance of the approach of this play.
The cast is fully game though. Gleefully committing to their moments in the spotlight and inhabiting whole-heartedly the ugly green astroturf set created with no real sense of reason by John McDermott (lighting by Les Dickert, costumes by Charoltte Palmer Lane). Each player in this ensemble play, in general, at least two parts; one that exists within the family dynamic and the other within the world of the Lost Boys and Neverland. I almost had written ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’, but ‘real’ would be the wrong word to describe the outlandish dynamic that rules the home of the Darlings. Their creation, with an over-the-top, albeit funny portrayal of Mary, the Darling kids’ mother, portrayed by Zuzanna Szadkowski (CW’s “Gossip Girl“), and George, the father, played by director Tucker (Pearl’s Vanity Fair), is as chaotic and ridiculous as any other part, maybe even more so. This is as absurdist a family as one could manage, and while being silly in its festivities, the structure is ultimately unsatisfying. The kids; Michael, played by Susannah Millonzi (CSC’s Prometheus Bound), John, played by Edmund Lewis (Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility), who also does a wonderfully fun job as the Darling’s maid, and their sister, Wendy, all like to play a fantasy game of family, with numerous repetitions, role-play, and frantic reenactments that confuse rather than enlighten.
Finally, with some much needed electricity, Peter Pan finally makes his entrance through the window. Peter is both cocky and brave, fearless of death, but harboring an inner need for female companionship that leans towards mothering rather than romantic. Portraying both the wild lost boy king, Peter Pan and the dog-nanny, Brad Heberlee (PH’s A Life) is engaging and shockingly good at jumping back and forth between the two. It’s quite a good pairing of opposing concepts and characters; the caregiver and the giver of carelessness. Heberlee also brings to the forefront a Peter Pan filled with an intoxicating sexual energy that parallels Kiley’s psychological structure of the syndrome and why certain woman are drawn into that orbit. Whether he’s playfully engaging with Wendy in pseudo romanticisms, or slow-dancing with the marvelous Szadkowski, who also, uncharacteristically, gets to play a seductive and sensual Hook, the eroticism that lays just below the surface of the classic Peter Pan wriggles its way up onto the stage of The Duke on 42nd St., for us all to behold and ponder. This isn’t the classic children’s fairy tale, but a more sensual look at desire and maturity.
Wendy, strongly played by Kelly Curran (Broadway’s Present Laughter) can’t help but be starry-eyed when it comes to Heberlee’s Peter. She’s a young girl looking at the handsome and brave Peter as the young knight who will fly her into womanhood. Flying, as explained with a hilarious wink and a grin by the unseen narrator, is not to be found in this production, too many complications and costs are associated with such things. But we do have Tinker Bell, played wonderfully by Millonzi, with a French snarl and a drag from a cigarette, who sees Wendy’s gaze and tries her fairy-damnest to get in the way, pulling on her ponytail, and even trying to find a way to fell her to the ground, but her attempts at shooting down Wendy’s plan fails. I’m not sure why or how she survives this treachery, which is a problem with much of this rewrite. Questions linger as to the reasonings and logic of structure, order, and repetition, but the frantic calls from Tink are inventive and good fun, as are many of the creative technical aspects. Sadly they don’t seem to solidify into a more cohesive whole.
Only later, within the odd white fabric roofed house that the young Lost Boys (Tucker, Millonzi, Szadkowski) create for Wendy (for which the design team spends a lot of energy to create with no great effect or meaning in the end), does Wendy start to see that the way the handsome Peter feels about her is not on the same level of maturity that she feels towards him. “What are your exact feelings for me, Peter?” And with his answer, the syndrome and complex is complete, and she must make a decision similar to what all women (or men, for that matter) must who find themselves loving someone of that nature. Wendy decides she will grow up and mature in the way that she dreams, leaving Peter to play out his forever young boy’s fantasy filled with pirates and mermaids as he is want to do.
This new adaptation has Peter telling his origin story to Wendy, that he fled from his parents as a baby when hearing what they had in store for him as he matured. When he decides to return, he finds the window closed, locking him out. He can see a new baby in the house making him believe his parents had forgotten about him, and feeling no longer wanted, he decides never to return nor ever look back on his family nor into his future as a mature man. J. M. Barrie who wrote the original 1904 play, which premiered in London (and most wistfully chronicled in the lovely 2004 movie, “Finding Neverland” starring Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp) created a Peter with a blithe attitude towards death, “To die will be an awfully big adventure”. In this re-creation play, the one moment that rings true and appealing is when Peter returns, years later to a Wendy who has married and has children of her own. This Peter Pan ponders what might have been if Peter had stayed with Wendy, “To live would be an awfully big adventure!” but Wendy has chosen a real world existence and a life that matures with reason and thought, much like this production could have used a little of. As it stands, Bedlam’s Peter Pan has some charm and frantic play in store that keeps a smile on the face for the most part, but in reality, this Peter is confusing and just doesn’t fly up high enough or light enough to emotionally or intellectually engage.
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