Bedlam's 'Peter Pan' at the Duke: A feminist fairy tale takes flight

PETERPAN
(Left to right:) Susannah Millonzi, Eric Tucker, Kelley Curran, Zuzanna Szadkowski, and Edmund Lewis in the Bedlam production of "Peter Pan" at the Duke in New York.

Bedlam is the name of the theater company that has, for the past five years, been deconstructing/reconstructing classic plays. There’s usually an undermining edge to their enterprise: The very word classic connotes a respect they will not grant. They brought their four-actor Hamlet to McCarter Theatre in Princeton last January, in rep with their St. Joan, but the show that won me was their Sense and Sensibility in New York. Unlike Hamlet, clearly not a comedy of manners (not even a tragedy of manners), Jane Austen perfectly suited their mischievous mission.

Peter Pan, a show that’s clever without actually being funny, is almost as ripe for Bedlam treatment. Based on a 1904 play by J.B. Barrie, then adapted by the playwright into novel form, Pan has been done as film after film (some animated, some musical), lodging the boy who won’t grow up in our collective psyches. There’s a production of the play coming to Arden as part of their children’s theatre series, and a production of the Peter Pan prequel, Finding Neverland, is coming to the Academy of Music as part of their Broadway series.

When I learned that Finding Neverland was a pet project of Harvey Weinstein, who also ran Miramax when the 2004 film Peter Pan was released, I had my hook (apologies to all pirates and punsters). If ever there was a classic example of the Peter Pan Syndrome, Weinstein and his merry band of predators fill the bill, as these eternal adolescents, refusing to become responsible male adults, keep filling up headlines.

Here’s where Bedlam comes in: The subtext (awful word, I know, I know) of Barrie’s book has always been mature sexuality, as Peter seduces Wendy and her two little brothers (Edmund Lewis and Susannah Millonzi) away from home and parents. If Peter and all the other Lost Boys want a mother, Wendy (the excellent Kelley Curran) discovers — to her dismay — that the kite she grabs, thinking it will fly her away, becomes an apron, revealing in a blinding instant her inevitable future and the show’s feminist agenda.

Tinkerbell (Millonzi again) becomes a nagging ex-girlfriend. The Darling parents (Eric Tucker and Zuzanna Szadkowski) are delighted to have some dirty time to themselves once the children disappear. The four actors play many other roles — dogs, pirates, fairies — and there is flying, but not by Foy; all flying happens onstage in our imaginations, via the illusion on which the company insists.

Brad Heberlee finds just the right combination of boyishness and sexiness for his Peter Pan. In his first encounter with Wendy, he seems not to know what a “kiss” is, and somehow mistakes that for her shoe. The seductive silence is sensational.  Later, that same shoe will become Cinderella’s slipper. The Lost Boys were all eager to hear the conclusion of the fairy tale since, without parents, nobody ever read them bedtime stories: “That’s why swallows nest in eaves — they want to hear the stories.” As do we all. Only this show shows us that the story we were hearing all this time had untold layers.


Bedlam at The Duke, 229 W. 42nd Street, 2nd floor, New York.