Thinker Bell – Bedlam Ages Peter Pan

 

 

Susanna Millonzi, Eric Tucker, Kelley Curran, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Edmund Lewis

 

 

By JK Clarke

 

Anyone walking in to see the new production of Peter Pan at the Duke on 42nd Street is in for a shock if they’re not familiar with its producing company. When the smart, experimental theater group, Bedlam takes a shot at a timeless classic like Peter Pan, you can be pretty certain it won’t be the sort of fare that you’d put into the DVD player in order to occupy your kids. Yes, it’s J.M. Barrie’s story alright, complete with Tinkerbell, Wendy, Neverland and all its other universally recognizable components, but in Bedlam’s hands it has become more cerebral, abstract . . . and just plain experimental. The company and cast, helmed by Director Eric Tucker, has removed its chronological structure (after all, isn’t a clock the source of destruction for at least one character?) distorted, repeated and revised scenes for emphasis and impact; the cerebral production is humorous and self-aware, occasionally crashing through the fourth wall in most unexpected ways.

 

Few can say they’re not already familiar with the Peter Pan storyline: lost boy, Peter, who refuses to grow up, along with his fairy guardian, Tinkerbell, invites the three Darling children, Wendy, Michael and John, to fly away to Neverland with him;  they impulsively go along, attracted as they are to the idea of being able to fly. Once there Wendy assumes a maternal role among the Lost Boys, telling them stories and providing them with the parental love they dearly miss. Ultimately, the Darling children return home, an act Peter sees as betrayal. Classically, it’s a lesson about a boy’s refusal to grow up—an idea which Bedlam subdues, opting instead to focus on relationship themes.

 

Brad Heberlee, Kelley Curran, Susanna Millonzi (photo: Daniel Tucker)

 

Like most stories commercially sanitized by Disney, Peter Pan’s origin has darker and more adult elements. Academic analyses of the story’s history and origins expose sub-themes involving kidnapping, premature death and the ravages and changes brought about by time. Bedlam goes back to these roots. While still having commitment and intimacy issues, this Peter is virile and handsome, he’s the object of a very ardent desire by a Wendy who comes off as a randy teen. Mostly, though, the characters are all immature and seem to have little interest in personal responsibility or growing up: Mr. and Mrs. Darling are buffoon-ish, prone to mood swings. They allow the family dog, Nana, to be the children’s’ guardian. Captain Hook is resentful and spends time pontificating that he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. And Tinkerbell is a sulking, jealous and chain-smoking grump. What’s more, Peter’s dark observation, “To die would be an awfully big adventure,” is repeated more than once.

 

While the production is problematic in lacking a clear message and storyline, it is overlong in the telling (a tedious, unnecessary Captain Hook monologue at the end seemed like it was tacked on out of some sort of obligation or afterthought), but worth seeing, nonetheless, for the performances alone.

 

Each of the six actors who play all 25 roles in this play would be noted for a standout performance in any other production. Shining as usual are Bedlam regulars Susannah Millonzi (who plays, among other roles, a marvelously disaffected Tinkerbell who hilariously mutters and curses in a mishmash of French and gibberish); the always entertaining and versatile Edmund Lewis; and Eric Tucker as the irresponsible, moody bourgeois father figure, Mr. George Darling.

 

Brad Heberlee, Edmund Lewis, Kelley Curran, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Susannah Millonzi

 

Newer to the Bedlam circuit are Zuzanna Szadkowski playing, among other roles, a somewhat randy Captain Hook; Kelly Curran as a loveable and sexier than usual Wendy; and Brad Heberlee, whom I could watch all day as a very nuanced and precise Nana, the family dog/nanny. He’s also Peter Pan, who seems like a dopey, sexy man-child you’d find on the Playa at Burning Man.

 

At this point in Bedlam’s storied history with remarkable productions of deconstructed classics from Hamlet to Sense and Sensibility to Twelfth Night in repertory with What You Will (an entirely different production of the same play, but with the same five actors), they have set expectations so absurdly high that it’s inevitable that some productions cannot reach these same heights. While Peter Pan may not be on par with their prior works, it still offers staggeringly original and creative elements. This one might be better for true theater aficionados, while somewhat less satisfying for those expecting Mary Martin flying around on a guy wire.

 

Peter Pan. Through December 23 at the Duke on 42nd Street (229 West 42nd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues). 95 minutes, no intermission. www.dukeon42.org

 

Photos: Daniel Tucker (feature image and where indicated) and Jeremy Daniel (all other images)

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