Peter/Wendy at Custom Made Theatre

 Before the show begins, the lost boy and girls of Never- Never Land ask the audience individually what they did today and then write the answers in chalk on the floor. Dressed in various colored horizontal striped pyjamas, the cast continues this energetic process until the space is as filled with writing as the walls of the theatre are. The lights then dim to begin this stripped to its bare elements version of the familiar tale of a boy who goes back to find his shadow and fly away with the girl who sews it back on to a faraway place “second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning”.

 Custom Made’s Guest Director Jeremy Bloom talks about the show: “I have been developing this project in various incarnations off and on for ten years or so. Technically longer, because the story of Peter Pan pervades our culture and minds even in ways we’re not aware of. I had read J.M. Barrie’s prose version and was newly awakened to the depth of the story and its characters. Though I had seen several productions of the play (most often the musical, but also movies and adaptations like Hook), I realized I hadn’t ever seen a play version that felt as current and exhilarating as it felt to read the book for the first time. While the story is marketed towards children, the book was clearly told from the perspective of an adult who acutely understands how fleeting youth and life are…not in a depressing way, but in a hopeful and lyrical way that just makes you want to run outside and start hugging people which of course we can’t. Peter urges Wendy to think of her happiest thought in the whole world, so that she can fly away. One passage in the book, that I remember not really seeing as a kid, is the heartbreaking journey of the parents left alone in the nursery to mourn the disappearance of their child. I wanted to stage Peter Pan with a ton of heart and to focus on the dynamics of these archetypal characters and strip the play of its iconic costumes and swinging wires, so that we could focus more on the story.

 I first work shopped the play in a garage in Illinois in front of open doors that revealed a giant parking lot complete with a Buick playing the role of the Jolly Roger and lots of major running off into the distance using text from Peter and Wendy as well as sections of The Little White Bird, also by Barrie. Later productions include Walkerspace in Soho Rep ultimately enjoying an extended run this past June at the cell theater in New York.

The Custom Made production incorporates the best discoveries of these various workshops and uses the cast of seven actors who I couldn’t love more. Most of the cast is female, except for Peter Pan, using the minimum number of people – one lost boy, one flower, one mermaid, and so on.

The text speaks so profoundly about imagination, it is only fitting to strip the elements to their simplest using super low-tech and minimal objects at a fast pace. The play is 75 minutes with music throughout and not a single blackout. I hope that this exposes the humanity of the story and the complexity of the characters.”

The ensemble includes: Tinkerbell (Anya Kazimierski), Hook & Mr. Darling (Terry Bamberger), Mrs Darling/Smee (Kim Saunders), Peter (Sam Bertken), Wendy (Elissa Beth Stebbins), A Tiger Lilly (Jessica Jade Rudholm) and  A Lost Boy/A Mermaid (Jeunee Simon) performing on Joshua Saulpaw’s and Nicola McCarthy’s multilevel Set with Lighting by Colin Johnson and Sound Design by Liz Ryder.

 Peter/Wendy plays Thurs-Sat at 8pm. Sun 7pm through Dec 15 at Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street (at Bush), SF, CA 94109

 Next at Custom Made: The Pain and The Itch by Bruce Norris directed by Dale Albright Jan 10-Feb 9, 2014.

by Linda Ayres-Frederick