Sex, drugs, and fairy dust. That’s what happens when Wendy grows up! Natalie Underwood’s “A Wendy Story” is a modern day retelling of Peter Pan, only through the eyes of Wendy. Much to my surprise, there wasn’t a single burger in sight. There was plenty of beer floating around, though. A sight which was oddly appropriate given that the entire setting, right down to the theater itself, has the distinct atmosphere of a dive bar. A place where you and your friends can eagerly forget your responsibilities and party straight on till morning. Without even knowing it, I had been immersed into the warm familiarity of a Saturday night out before the show even began! Welcome to Neverland…
The world of Peter Pan (or in this case, “Pete”) is remarkably well-suited to a modern interpretation. A fully grown, but not quite fully mature Wendy, played by Yasmeen Jawhar, with all the sympathetic charisma that the role demands, struggles to figure herself out between the worlds of childlike irresponsibility and adulthood. Captain Hook is re-imagined as a vitriolic scumbag corporate bigwig. Bill Chambers does an excellent job of being “lovably unlikeable” as CEO Jason Hookman. Wendy’s consistent friend and co-worker Sonja, played by Jen Perney, does an adequate job of sprinting through her lines with surprising grace. Sadly, many of the funnier lines in the show are engulfed by the blinding speed of her delivery.
Meanwhile, the aptly named “Aimless Youth” form the rock band around which Wendy forces her life to revolve. Pete himself is played by Joe Yoga, who brilliantly captures the flighty, fickle, and happy-go-lucky nature of a bar-room bard. He is as fun and loving as he is cold and careless. Ben Williams does a memorable job as Bonaparte, even if his constant inebriation is slightly overdone. It suits the character though, so I can’t truly fault him for it. Sublimely talented guitarist Marlon Kaltenborn plays Dave, the straight man who’s really only interested in the music, to the point of idolizing Frank Zappa. Sonseray Talbot-Reed is especially impactful as She-Ra, the one band member with her head legitimately on straight. Bill, an ancillary role played by Brian Douglas, serves to contribute and uplift the rest of the cast. Adorable fairy Tinkerbell is boldly reimagined as “Tinx” a gothy little sprite played by Debby Bell whose youthful energy marks the biggest turning point in the show.
All in all, the cast has fantastic chemistry with one another and the characterization is spot on. I dare say that you wont find a more accurate portrayal of a small-time carefree rock band anywhere else… Except for an actual bar featuring a local band, of course. And that’s practically what this show is; a brief stint in a homely watering hole with some decent original music that happens to have a genuine message for its audience. The message itself is as jarringly realistic as the first rays of morning sunlight piercing your retinas through the haze of a hangover. A sobering slap in the face that you didn’t really want but you knew you needed all the same. I could have done without most of the last scene though. It was a serviceable epilogue at best. Thankfully, the whole thing stops just short of ruin and still left me with a feeling of great overall satisfaction.
If you’ve ever been stuck in a position in your life that you didn’t like, if you’ve ever fallen in with a bad crowd, or if you’ve ever simply wanted to have a good time, I would recommend seeing “A Wendy Story.” With a charming wit that’s laced with healthy realism, Natalie Underwood’s latest work challenges you to both find -and reject- your own vision of “Neverland.”
A WENDY STORY plays one more weekend:
Joseph Conway is a professional writer with several published essays and short stories. He reviews for OuterStage and Drama-Queens. He is also a stage and film actor.