The Wendy Complex
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
July 14, 2008
Have you ever looked up and gotten lost in the sky? Ever dreamt of flying and woke up breathless? Ever fallen for a sexy daredevil so deep that you feared you would drown? If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions (and don't mind your theatre a little challenging and avant-garde) then The Wendy Complex in the Midtown International Theater Festival is for you.
The Wendy Complex, written and directed by Jeremy Bloom, is a bit daunting at first. The language is dense with imagery and flies at you in odd fragments. The acting is heightened and the characters are often more stock than fleshed-out. It takes a little trust to catch up with the setup but here's the gist: In some vaguely European country there is an aerial expert named "Janvier" who is planning to fly a hot-air balloon higher than anyone has ever gone before and then jump out of it with a parachute breaking every record in the book. He is being sponsored by a rich widow ("The Funder") and supported by "The Prince" of the land and The Prince's "Wife." Janvier's wife, who stands by him stunt after stunt, is named "Wendy" and this exploit is called "The Peter Pan Project." Great chunks of J. M. Barrie's classic book are scattered throughout the play; in fact to some characters, it's like a holy canon. Each character in the play is enraptured, envious, or obsessed with the idea of flying.
This passion is explored within a highly political web. The Prince isn't so sure this won't become an embarrassing tragedy but his Wife has convinced him it will be good for his image to support it. Money and power are part of the dynamic of every scene. Wendy (played with fascinating complexity by Atley Loughridge) has a premonition the jump will turn out badly, but she knows her script in public. We see this strange social circle through the eyes of Ramona, a visiting journalist covering the event. Ramona is performed by Sarah Billington Stevens and her character is more grounded than the others. This choice makes total sense and also helps the audience get a toe-hold in this world.
What's delicious about this show is how all the theatrical elements just dance together in profound sync. It's a very slick and imaginative production. The movement work of the ensemble is fantastic—everything has a shape, everyone at all times is deliberately placed. Bodies create different terrains, they fly, they give the audience different angles of vision into the scenes. Steph Tucci is credited with scenic design and Brian Tovar is listed as the lighting designer but how you can separate the two is beyond me. Lights are all over the stage, they are part of the set and are often manipulated by the actors to stunning effect. The only other major set pieces are chairs and fabric which are also integrated beautifully into choreographed movement. It all flows with the dramatic rhythm of the written play. The more I listened with my eyes, the more the language made perfect sense. Then when you set all this to the original soundscape by Renee Dunaway, the show becomes just flat-out cool.
Have you ever been terrified and thrilled at the same time? The Wendy Complex is like one of those good-scary amusement park rides. When you get on and let yourself go with it, you won't want to get off.