Review: ‘Peter Pan: Wendy, Peter. Peter, Wendy’ at Single Carrot Theatre

The idea behind Single Carrot Theatre’s Peter Pan: Wendy, Peter. Peter, Wendy. is one of the most interesting and exciting concepts in recent Baltimore theater history. The company commissioned writer Joshua Conkel to create a devised script based on real-life stories of the Baltimore LGBTQ community and inspired by the classic children’s story, here with a trans female Peter Pan and a Wendy whose happiest thought is of having a “dickie.”

Ben Kleymeyer and Tina Canady in Peter Pan: Peter, Wendy. Wendy, Peter. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

The opening night performance of Peter Pan didn’t make the best impression: The show stopped for nearly 40 minutes because of sound issues, and an actor who had missed her entrance had to be called to the stage over a mic (Single Carrot said in an email this is actually a scripted moment). I’m assuming the technical issues will be rectified for future audiences, or that the company at least improvises better.

There is a lot going on in the production, but what shines through are the authentic Baltimore LGBTQ stories. I was impressed by one scene in particular that had ensemble members who were part lost boys, part stars talking about how stars look different when you’re homeless and living on the street. It was a creative way to weave Peter Pan’s “second star to the right and straight on ’til morning right” with the real-life experiences of people whose stories contributed to this play.

Cast members of Peter Pan: Peter, Wendy. Wendy, Peter. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

Cast members of Peter Pan: Peter, Wendy. Wendy, Peter. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

The script doesn’t work as well when these stories seem forced into scenes, or when trying to strictly adhere to the traditional story’s framework. Creatively, the lost boys aren’t orphans, but “bois,” each on a journey of self-discovery and mostly identifying as gay, transgender and/or black. The show program notes the preferred pronoun of those involved with the production, with several using the non-binary “their/them.” But, Peter tells Wendy there are no girls in Never Land. Even Tinkerbell is a gay man. There are enough liberties taken with the story, why not include more positive vagina-talk?

The trans male Wendy is one of the most interesting characters in the show. Actor Tina Canady gives a very strong performance and is a natural on stage. Wendy is vocal about feeling uncomfortable in dresses and under the confines of female gender roles and expectations, like being the default “mother” of her brothers and the lost boys. Peter Pan (played by a purple-haired, glitter-faced Ben Kleymeyer, who uses the pronoun “they” and was the community liaison for the project) is much more comfortable in those feminine roles. Peter forgets their “willie” (a dangling rope tied around Peter and then Wendy’s waist) at the Darling’s house and is delighted with the idea of having babies. The two characters switch identities and genders in Never Land, hence the extended title of this world premiere: Peter Pan: Wendy, Peter. Peter, Wendy.

One of the more random characters in the show is a kinky Captain Hook, played by a scene-stealing Richard Goldberg, who is a welcome burst of energy in his handful of appearances. There are other random characters—like an out-of-nowhere cameo from a purple Big Bird—that don’t bring as much joy.

The whole production is kind of all over the place, including the accents, the storylines and that trouble-making sound design. But, the randomness isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it means more of the voices that contributed to this script get to be heard. The show works best when it gets to the core of why it exists in the first place—to tell the stories of the queer community in a playful, yet heartfelt way.

Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission.

Peter Pan: Wendy, Peter. Peter, Wendy. plays through May 20, 2018, at Single Carrot Theatre – 2600 N. Howard Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (443) 844-9253, or buy them online.

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