Never-Never Land never seemed so strange and faraway as it does in Dario D’Ambrosi’s The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Captain Maldetto (La Mama). This latest Roman export from Teatro Patologico features a young Italian man on stilts as the defiantly adolescent Peter, a coed group of mental health patients and volunteers as the lost boys, and D’Ambrosi himself as the villainous Hook, who’s been transformed into a pedophile director in search of children for his latest porno flick.
While not necessarily patologico, the production is definitely crazy—delightfully so, for the most part, thanks to D’Ambrosi’s robust theatrical wit. His freewheeling adaptation (spoken in Italian with a few lines of English thrown in for clarification) has the adult “kids” read compositions from their little desks while Hook hovers nearby, passing out naked dolls and lusting to cop a furtive schoolhouse squeeze. As in the original, Peter and his crocodile companion defend the juvenile enclave against the treachery of the one-handed pirate. The difference is that Hook’s razor-sharp prosthesis now easily detaches to become a lactating nipple.
Behind every thief of childhood lurks an undermothered baby, sums up the moral of this off-the-wall cartoon, which makes up in compassionate humor what it lacks in psychological profundity. Jun Maeda’s autumnal set of dead leaves and wooden crosses lends an eerie, poetic reminder of the original story’s preoccupation with the fleeting nature of youth. Though not as darkly enthralling as Mabou Mines’s recent Peter and Wendy, D’Ambrosi’s adventurous reworking of J.M. Barrie’s classic reaches out to those of us stranded somewhere between innocence and perversity.