Theater

“Peter Pan” Gets Grounded by Bedlam’s Less-Is-More (Until It’s Not) Treatment

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Bedlam is a troupe with a trademark specialty for delivering large-scale classics with small groups of actors: Hamlet performed by four, Twelfth Night done with five. Last year, Bedlam notably offered a delightful romp with Kate Hamill’s fresh adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. The company now applies its less-is-more approach to Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie’s dreamland saga about the boy who would not grow up. Six actors are deployed by Eric Tucker, Bedlam’s artistic director (who includes himself among the ensemble), to portray, more or less, the two dozen characters inhabiting the original 1904 text, which has been adapted by the company members.

Actually, the play is not adapted here so much as redacted, with most of its childish charm stripped out, as well as all its flying sequences. That’s right, kids: Nobody flies in this Peter Pan. Neither is this (speaking of kids) a family-friendly rendition of the play, but rather a stark, deconstructed interpretation that vaguely explores the creepier side of maternal affection. Ugly visuals signal that a conceptual misfire is in progress: A boxy setting in dismal shades of green with fake grass on the floor suffices for all the locations, be they an Edwardian-era nursery or a pirate ship. A plastic wading pool later is introduced for Neverland, and a gauzy canopy will be stretched overhead to suggest the environs for the Lost Boys’ home under the ground. The actors’ ragtag contemporary getups fit in disappointingly well amid such minimalist decor.

The play’s dialogue and even its structure have been trimmed and rearranged. Excerpts from Barrie’s whimsical stage directions at times are narrated over a loudspeaker. And when Peter instructs the Darling children in the art of flying, instead of actual lift-off occurring, the narrator intones a detailed notation from the acting edition of the script regarding how the flying effect and its technical equipment can be obtained from the Foy company in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Stranger than that — stranger even than the show’s bizarre choices in music, which range from jaunty Charles Trenet chansons to the “Salaambo” opera selections from Citizen Kane — is the fact that Peter Pan is not even the pivotal character of Bedlam’s production. Wearing rusty black jeans and a T-shirt, Brad Heberlee is a scruffy Peter whose surly presence appears marginal to the 105-minute proceedings. More central to this staging is Kelley Curran, whose wide-eyed Wendy displays warm feelings for the Lost Boys, even though the lullaby she croons is “Blue Bayou.” The most imposing figure here is embodied by Zuzanna Szadkowski, bustling about as a bossy Mrs. Darling clad in seersucker culottes and a fur-fringed boudoir robe. Later, without changing costume, Szadkowski morphs into rococo Captain Hook. Threatening the children with a (invisible) cat-o’-nine-tails whip, this female Hook twiddles her fingers before her crotch and leers, “Do you boys want a touch of the cat before you walk the plank?”

Barrie would faint over such an Oedipal suggestion, but it is only a fleeting moment in a scattershot and jokey interpretation that does not thoughtfully pursue the story’s many themes regarding escapism, gender roles, growing up, and innocence (among others). Mostly a joyless event, Bedlam’s production sporadically brightens whenever Susannah Millonzi pops up in a witty depiction of Tinker Bell as a glum gamine, puffing on an e-cig and muttering dark imprecations about Wendy in French. Now there’s a fairy that one can really believe in.

Peter Pan
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
646-223-3010
dukeon42.org
Through December 23

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