By Massimo Iacoboni
Expectations were high for Bedlam’s adaptation of yet another beloved classic, J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which Barrie wrote for the stage in 1904 and subsequently adapted into the iconic novel. Bedlam mesmerized New York audiences last year with their sublimely inventive stage adaptation of the Jane Austen classic Sense and Sensibility, which received accolades from seemingly all corners, enjoyed multiple, simultaneous runs Off Off-Broadway and across the country, and was nominated for numerous awards.
The company was founded just a few years ago by Andrus Nichols and Eric Tucker, who functioned as producing director and artistic director, respectively. Ms. Nichols, however, was not involved in the current production, and she no longer appears as part of the team on the company’s web site.
Another collaborator conspicuously absent from this production is actress and playwright Kate Hamill, who brilliantly adapted Austen’s novel for the stage last year, and also appeared in the play in the pivotal role of Marianne Dashwood, one of its two heroines. The other was memorably played by Ms. Nichols herself.
It would be unfair to speculate these defections are responsible for the unevenness of Bedlam’s Peter Pan, and yet it is hard to reconcile the company’s former achievements with this work’s rather modest merits. Bedlam’s trademark practice of assigning multiple roles to each performer appears mishandled here, where actors are expected to switch gears – and the audience to follow them – with little or no directorial assistance. You’ll have a hell of a hard time telling who is who unless you read the play yesterday,. This is particularly true in the second half of the show, when the adult actors are both the Darling children, Peter’s “real life” accomplices, and the Lost Boys of Neverland, his cohorts in the battle against Captain Hook (the miscast Zuzanna Szadkowski, who also appears, more effectively, in the role of Mrs. Darling).
Mr. Tucker has handled his limited resources – actors in multiple roles and bare-bones scenery – to dazzling effect in past productions, inventively transforming the stage with simple stratagems (a branch to suggest a forest, a piece of furniture on wheels to switch to a new environment) and, most crucially, by offering crystal clear clues to indicate each shift of character by his limited cast. This does not hold true here, where each clue seems somewhat vague, often nothing more than wearing or shedding a garment or accessory.
Most significantly, even after the rational recognition of a new character is made, it is hard to feel any sense of reward: again and again are minds are led out of the dramatic continuum, repeatedly jolted out of the theatrical reverie.
This constant readjustment of perspective interferes with, and practically annihilates, the emotional payoff that dramatic action is supposed to deliver. By insisting we approach the story with our minds rather than our hearts, Mr. Tucker has short-changed the play, and us, of the magic of the theater.
Bedlam’s Peter Pan is at The Duke on 42nd Street until December 23. Written by J.M. Barrie. Directed by Peter Tucker. With Kelley Curran, Brad Heberlee, Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Zuzanna Szadkowski and Eric Tucker. Set design John McDermott; lighting design Les Dickert; Costume design Charlotte Palmer-Lane; choreography Alexandra Beller; sound design Eric Tucker. Tickets.