If you’re looking for the sanitized, Disneyfied version of J.M.Barrie’s familiar tale of Peter Pan, then by all means, please click on over to Netflix right now and put it in your queue. If, however, you’re looking to experience the story of Peter Pan and Wendy Darling in a way that explores themes of darkness, longing, fear, confusion, loss, revenge and bittersweet sadness then I suggest you head over to Peter ~ Wendy (an illuminating re-imagining of the timeless tale of Peter Pan) and watch as a cast of strangely sweet and sweetly strange characters re-tell the tale as you’ve never encountered before.
Conceived and directed by Jeremy Bloom, Peter ~ Wendy is a compilation of Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy and The Little White Bird and manages to poetically and creatively tell a story that we’ve all heard enough times to know it by heart. Whereas much of the story is still childlike and innocent, Bloom washes parts of the piece with an undertone of modern horror ripped from the headlines – while it’s always been perfectly lovely to imagine a childishly smitten Peter Pan (Chris Hejl) waiting at Wendy’s (Heloise Darcq) window and then flying her away from her loving parents (Jesse Garrison as Mr. Darling and Sarah Ann Masse as Mrs. Darling), in the wake of stories such as Jaycee Lee Dugard and Elisabeth Smart it doesn’t seem as, well, Darling anymore. Even the notion of the sweet little shack built just for Wendy upon her arrival to Neverland (known as a “Wendy House”) brings images of the strange shack Jaycee Lee Dugard was forced to live in for 18 years. Maybe we’re not meant to make these parallels, but for just a moment the connection happens anyway. Peeping Toms, or Pans, can sprinkle all the fairy dust they want, but there’s no doubt Peter is leading Wendy into danger, and this production tells a much more adult version of the story than any traditional adaptation. Again, perhaps it’s because director Bloom is using unconventional images, methods, media and lighting to tell the tale; there’s something eerie about his Neverland and there’s something unsettling about Wendy’s life there.
With a large cast of characters who take on the roles of Lost Boys, faeries, pirates, Indians, mermaids, and birds, there’s no end to the amount of imagery and activity that will keep you intrigued and fascinated; although there are definite moments of bombardment when characters talk over each other and everyone talks over a pre-recorded (somewhat unintelligible) prattling. This is, of course, intentional and I’m sure only meant to cement the idea of confusion and strangeness which it does.
Particularly magical are some of the moments that need the greatest amount of imagination to execute – Wendy and Peter and Tinkerbell (Holly Chou) flying high above the streets of London as cast members narrate their journey, for instance, or the flurry of faeries building Wendy a house, please with themselves and adding on features in order to make the house appealing to Wendy. With minimal stage design and more attention to sound and light design, what takes place in your head (planted by these actors) is as much a part of the production as what takes place in front of you.
Deadpanning her way through the role of Hook is Joyce Miller, flanked by her cronies Mr. Smee (Claire Neumann) and Noodler (Claire Wilmoth) and her tremendously straight-faced delivery brings about some of the funniest (and funnest) moments of the play. Somewhere in the meeting of good dialogue, great delivery, and shadows of ideas that launch your imagination (Miller’s bent index finger provides the implication of the hook, and the 3 swaying constantly back and forth, back and forth echoes the listing of The Jolly Roger) is that sweet spot where true stagecraft becomes something more. I’ve no problem admitting that the scenes which involved these three women were my favorite.
One directorial choice that can’t be overlooked is Jeremy Bloom’s decision to cast one of his title characters with a woman for whom English is obviously a second language. Now, in New York’s great melting pot I’ve come across numerous performers of varied backgrounds; their heritage and ethnicity often lend to the rich texture of the story. And certainly, in a production where traditional male roles such as pirates and even a Lost Boy usually played by males are cast regardless of gender, it’s refreshing to see boundaries ignored and lines blurred. Ms. Darcq, however, as Wendy, does not just give her character a lilting foreign accent but rather can often be somewhat off the mark in her delivery which can mean whole passages of dialogue go misunderstood by the audience. Her odd emphasis is distracting enough to make one drop the suspension of disbelief and sit for a moment dissecting the delivery. One could either view this as a deficit, or see this as a bold choice made by Bloom in order to strengthen the notion of Wendy as a stranger in a strange land. What Ms. Darcq can sometimes lose with her delivery she by far makes up for with an expressive face that very clearly telegraphs the emotion of Wendy’s joy at seeing a magic unfold before her. Therefore I won’t say this particular facet works or doesn’t; I’ll leave it up to the audience to decide for themselves.
Overall, this production of Peter~Wendy does much to tell a truer tale – almost like revisiting the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and concluding that they weren’t so lovely as once believed. With nontraditional choices, a good balance of sight, sound and even sensuality, and small touches like the Lost Boy’s eyes or Tinkerbell’s light source, you’ll come away from walkerspace with a bigger appreciation for this children’s tale than you had before.
–Peter ~ Wendy
November 5-8, 2009
Thursday at 8PM
Friday at 8PM & 10PM
Saturday/Sunday at 3PM & 8PM *Walkerspace, *46 Walker Street, New York, NY 10013