Bedlam's "Peter Pan"-ned, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's "The Mad Ones" Not Mad Enough, Miller's "20th Century Blues" Fades

One definition of a classic should be that no matter how it’s assailed over the decades it remains proudly intact. I bring this up with J. M. Barrie in mind. He’s now been breached twice this season. The first attack was Sarah Ruhl’s disappointing For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday. The second siege is underway at the hands of the Bedlam company and at the Duke. The impoverished opus is under Eric Tucker’s sloppy direction.

The troupe members—Kelley Curran, Brad Heberlee, Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Zuzanna Zladkowski, Tucker himself—do cling to Barrie’s basic storyline like children instructed not to do otherwise, but they also take all sorts of liberties as they go about their travesty.

Their (per)version takes place in an institutional-green set (John McDermott the designer) representing the nursery where Wendy, Michael and John, the offspring of Mr. and Mrs. Darling, hang out. There, Nana the dog wanders about often carrying paper bags in her teeth. There, Peter Pan visits once a year with or without Tinkerbell.

What goes on within these walls is so thoroughly witless that it’s a waste of both the readers’ and my time to set down the details. A more pertinent use of this column space would be to ask what Tucker and players had in mind?

Perhaps the thought was that what’s needed in the current parlous political climate is a Peter Pan for the times. The United States is certainly under the command of a man who steadfastly, defiantly, puerilely refuses to grow up.

That, however, doesn’t really seem the Bedlam design. At the very end, there is a lingering hint that growing up is a theme. (It definitely was in Ruhl’s work.) Then again and perhaps—though this is unlikely—the Bedlam inmates thought they could treat themselves to some fun by presenting something that’s pure bedlam. If that’s their aim, they’ve succeeded.

This reviewer won’t go so far as to say the Bedlam Peter Pan is the worst production of 2017, but it’s certainly in the bottom three. In such circumstances, it would only be fair not to implicate the actors in the scorn but to cite them for refusing to mutiny. Since these actors are also the writers, even that aspirin can’t be extended.

N. B.: This is a sincere warning to parents looking around for a Peter Pan at which young children can fall for the first time under its enduring spell: Steer well clear of this Halloween monster.

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Lyricist Kait Kerrigan and composer Brian Lowdermilk are among the younger songwriters who’ve been displaying their mettle impressively these last few years. It’s been a particular pleasure that some of our most promising younger singers (e. g.: Matt Doyle, Grace McLean, Caissie Levy) have been grabbing Kerrigan-Lowdermilk material to win enthusiastic applause in their cabaret acts.

So they’ve been raising great expectations with musicals they’ve been working on. They’ve been plying one of them, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, for a few years during which they’ve notched several wowee awards. Now it arrives at 59E59 Theatres.

It arrives with a title change as The Mad Ones. Why the adjustment? Who knows? Maybe they thought it had been peddled under the previous title for too long. Maybe they thought The Mad Ones is a better title.

It isn’t. The previous moniker is much more germane, because it definitely follows Samantha Brown (Krystina Alabado) while she recounts her story as she confronts it on the day she’s supposed to be leaving for her freshman year at Columbia but feels as if she needs the freedom to do something more than routinely continue her education.

Urged by best friend and aggressive goader Kelly (Emma Hunton) but not really by her statistician mother Beverly (Leah Hocking), she’s having trouble even putting the key in the ignition and turning it. The resistance is a metaphor, of course, for not turning the key on the rest of her life.

And so, also joined by good-hearted boyfriend Adam (Jay Armstrong Johnson), who declares his sole wish for her is to be happy, she repeatedly wavers about following through on her Jack-Kerouac-like road journey.

There lies the Mad Ones rub. Samantha—Sam to her intimates—takes about 90 or 100 minutes to dither, which isn’t very engagingly dramatic. She and the others do become dramatic when singing about their various emotional conditions, and these accomplished singers frequently maximize those moments.

But it’s not the same thing as raising the dramatic stakes—only repeating Samantha’s predicament so that the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk songs begin to sound too much like each other. Perhaps the best is the propulsive “Run Away With Me,” which is already a Manhattan cabaret favorite and deserves to be included in The Great American 21st-century Songbook. (Paul Staroba and Jeremy Robin Lyons share conductor-pianist duties.)

Yet, keep this in mind: Much as the way the overrated Wicked appeals to young girls worrying they’re more Elphaba than Glinda, The Mad Ones may gratify young women recognizing the post-adolescent need to know what face to show the world. Never underestimate that age-appropriate allure.

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Speaking of women on the verge, Susan Miller jumps about 40 years or more from the Mad Ones age group with 20th Century Blues at the Signature (where it’s not a Signature production).

Bisexual photographer (her theme is groups) Danny (Polly Draper) has Leica-ed three BFFs Sil (Ellen Parker), Mac (Franchelle Stewart Dorn) and Gabby (Kathryn Grody) for 40 years and has decided—as she announces in a TED talk that begins Susan Miller’s play—to show the images as her Museum of Modern Art retrospective.

Not so fast, Danny. When the now 60-ish women gather at Danny’s studio (Beowulf Boritt’s terrific high-ceiled set) for their annual posing and Danny announces what she has in mind, Gabby seems to like the idea, but Sil and Mac balk.

So they blah-blah-blah about it for awhile, interrupted only by unloading details of other event in their lives and by a visit from Danny’s dementia-incipient mom (Beth Dixon) and son Simon (Charles Socarides). The repetitive dialogue is further marred by the insufficient reasons Miller dreams up for Sil’s and Mac’s resistance.

Emily Mann, up from Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center, directs as best she can. The cast—four top-notch actors are the friends—attempt to give life to a drama that, since it deals with women of a certain age confronting their past and present, is a strong premise that falls far short of achieving the power it should.

By the way, at no point does anyone sing Noel Coward’s moody “Twentieth Century Blues.”

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