Off-Off Broadway Theater Review: PETER / WENDY (the cell, A Twenty First Century Salon™)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 1, 2013

in Theater-New York

CHILD’S PLAY

Adapted by Jeremy Bloom from J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy and A Little White Bird, Peter/Wendy, which Mr. Bloom also directs, is a charming, semi-interactive theatrical experiment in which a group of delightful young performers in pajamas play out a retelling of the story of Peter Pan (John Charles McLaughlin) and Wendy Darling (Jessie Shelton). The main play space is the vestibule of a modified brownstone in which the cell has its home. The audience is seated at the rear of the room facing the large glass portcullis-shaped entranceway leading out to the street. Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off Off Broadway review of PETER/WENDY at the cellThis is significant because for most of the performance the curtains remain open and we can see passers by walking past 338 West 23rd Street, and they can see us, with most of them pausing to look at what’s going on inside.

The show begins before the play begins, with actors in costume frolicking about and interacting with arriving audience members. Red and white wine is offered. Visitors are asked to contribute happy thoughts – these range from “children giggling” to “pesto” to “penis” – which performers then write on one of many broad sheets of paper that cover the vestibule walls, hanging from the high ceilings down to the floor like unfurled scrolls; hundreds of happy thoughts fill the lengths of these on Brian Rady’s set.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off Off Broadway review of PETER/WENDY at the cellThe concept of Peter/Wendy seems to be to create an atmosphere of children at night playing “let’s pretend,” either just for themselves or perhaps for an audience. The troupe’s renditions are a combination of acting and playacting, intentionally self-conscious, with the viewing public serving as (mostly) silent collaborators. The most exciting moment in the show happens towards the end, when the glass double doors are swung open and Tiger Lily (Julia Steele Allen) invites people from the street to come inside and call out something that makes them happy – a happy thought – which other performers then write on the scrolls.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off Off Broadway review of PETER/WENDY at the cellWith actors so young and positive and committed, radiating so much energy and light and life and love, one would almost have to admit to being a cynic to dislike this show; it would be tantamount to telling your little daughter, who’s just done her dance for you, that you didn’t like it. And in this way – getting that hopeful, innocent, childlike energy across – the show succeeds very well (rounding out the infectious ensemble are Brittany Bellizeare as Mrs. Darling/Hook; Lachrisha C. Brown as Tinkerbell; Tim Eliot as Mr. Darling/Smee; and Evan Kuzma as A Lost Boy/A Mermaid). Though perhaps if going the self-conscious, inclusive route, it might be worthwhile making it even more interactive – maybe the viewers can sit on the floor, with the actors performing between and around them. If audience members helped out, holding flashlights or props, it might bring out even more of what Mr. Bloom seems to be trying to do. Besides, having us sit on the floor would also address the problem of the very uncomfortable chairs, which no amount of pixie dust or happy thoughts can cure.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off Off Broadway review of PETER/WENDY at the cell

photos by Robert Lavenstein and Jeremy Bloom

Peter/Wendy
the cell, A Twenty First Century Salon™, 338 W. 23rd St
scheduled to end on June 22, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.thecelltheatre.org/

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