Bedlam, the innovative theater group, helmed by Eric Tucker, has grown famous with clever stripped-down versions of the classics (Hamlet, Saint Joan, Twelfth Night) which reveal hidden meanings, as well as a brilliant staging of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Now they have attempted J.M. Barrie’s beloved children’s play, Peter Pan. Adapted by the company and staged by Tucker, the results are a spotty deconstruction as a Freudian nightmare updated to the present. Performed with only six actors, the play is difficult to follow with all but one actor doubling or tripling and will be very confusing for people who do not know the original. The question is why at this time of year when parents are looking for things to take children?
John McDermott’s set for what was once an Edwardian fairy tale is an all-green space with an Astro-Turf floor, a high window, a door, and a crawl space for Nana the dog. This has to stand in for the Darling’s nursery and Neverland, Captain Hook’s ship being given short shrift. At times, the Darling home switches from the children’s nursery to what seems to be the backyard with an above ground pool. Some of the doubling requires actors to play two characters in the same scene such as Brad Heberlee as both Peter Pan and Nana the dog, and Zuzanna Szadkowski as Mrs. Darling and Captain Hook. Tucker wears glasses with thick black rims as Mr. Darling, Smee and Toodles. Susannah Millonzi plays both youngest son John as well as cigarette smoking Tinker Bell who unaccountably speaks French. Only Kelley Curran as Wendy gets to play one character throughout and is the most successful.
Mr. and Mrs. Darling have an erotic game going throughout the play, while Wendy appears to want a more complete relationship with Peter who wishes to remain a child and be her “son.” The costumes by Charlotte Palmer-Lane suggest contemporary casual wear for a play date than for a three act play. The sound design by Tucker at times makes it difficult to hear when the actors turn up stage, while the use of contemporary songs fails to add any effective atmosphere. Les Dickert’s lighting changes color in various scenes without causing much more than registering a difference. Some of the lewd or suggestive language suggests that Bedlam never intended this production for young children.
Such changes as Captain Hook being a woman or Tinker Bell speaking French are neither explained nor meaningful, while some of the doubling simply makes the play hard to follow as the characters are not listed in the programs which are given out after the performance. A voice-over which appears to read stage directions from the original is both intrusive and inconsistent: why some characters but not others? There is a dark psychological story hidden in Barrie’s tale of a boy who refuses to grow up but this isn’t it. Whereas the original play is joyful, Bedlam’s Peter Pan is a glum affair in which no one seems to be having a very good time. Where is the Bedlam which brought such purposeful insight and visual dazzle to its previous work? The actors, mostly playing children, try hard but fail to bring the work to life.
Peter Pan (through December 23, 2017)
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-223-3010 or visit http://www.Bedlam.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission