Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan may be flying in to Broadway next season, but long before then, New Yorkers can learn about the man who created Peter Pan in a new play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan. It's by Allan Knee, author of the Off-Broadway play Shmulnik's Waltz and librettist for the Broadway disappointment, Late Nite Comic.
The 42nd Street WorkShop production runs Mar. 4-28.
In Knee's play, J.M. Barrie bases Peter Pan and the Lost Boys on a real family, the Davies'. Barrie sees in them an innocence and purity that inspires him, though the family is eventually shattered by personal tragedy.
Bennett Windheim directs The Man Who Was Peter Pan, which stars Joe Barrett as Barrie and Holly Hawkins as mother Davies. Also in the cast are Bruce Barney, Nicholas Joy, Jordan Roth and Tommy Walsh.
Recent 42nd Street WorkShop productions have included Miracle Mile and Slouching Toward the Millennium. The Man Who Was Peter Pan represents an effort by 42nd Street Workshop to move some shows past the point of reading or workshop into small-scale production. Says director Windheim (reached March 9), "The 42nd Street Workshop has always done brief workshops: one play, four times a week, four weeks. Often, the works were done book-in-hand, the raison d'etre being to explore new works or rediscover old ones, without a lot of pressure. But people started asking, `What happens afterwards? You get the piece perfect just when it's over.' So I was asked to help the company elevate the level of production. Over the past six-to-eight months, with the Murray Schisgal Evening, Those Gallagher Girls and now this, we're moving in that direction."
Asked specifically about Peter Pan, Windheim said, "The playwright and I started talking about this show a year ago and did some readings in December and January, but rehearsals didn't start until Feb. 1. Even then, it was tough because schedules were crazy and until the last week, we almost never got the whole company in the same room together. The good part is, if I did anything on this show, the casting is what I'm most proud of. When I cast I look for acting ability and signs of intelligence. It's a smartly-written play. I need to know the actors can have a dialogue with me and bring a lot to the piece."
"Another challenge," said Windheim, "was to keep the show visually interesting. We had to allow for scenes to flow. I wanted no blackouts, no fade-outs, no cross-fades. Instead, the set allows for four different ways to enter and exit."
Windheim is a recent addition to the 42nd Street Workshop, having founded and served as artistic director for the Theatre North Collaborative (on Canal St.) in the early 90s. "That took five years and a lot of my own money, so I decided to take a break," said Windheim. "I wanted to write again -- I'm also a playwright -- and pay off some of those debts."
Windheim not only directs and writes plays but also does marketing for 42nd Street Workshop. So far, there are no plans for Peter Pan after March 28 ("except for striking the set on the 29th," says Windheim). The director hopes for a vacation but also wants to work on "a play I keep getting distracted from: Hugs and Kishkas."
For tickets ($12) and information on The Man Who Was Peter Pan at 42nd Street WorkShop, 432 West 42nd St., call (212)695-4173.
-- By David Lefkowitz