BWW Review: Wendy Darling Finds Her Voice in World Premier LOST GIRL at Milwaukee Repertory Theater

BWW Review: Wendy Darling Finds Her Voice in World Premier LOST GIRL at Milwaukee Repertory TheaterThis World Premiere event isn't the Peter Pan narrative you'd expect. There's no pixie dust, Neverland, or mermaids. The only magic found on stage - and it's a powerful magic at that - comes from the remarkable cast of teens performing playwright Kimberly Belflower's simultaneously authentic and lyrical new script.

Belflower sums up her inspiration in her playwright's note: "The term 'Peter Pan Syndrome' is a familiar one, referring to boys who never grow up. But when I was twenty, a friend told me I had 'Wendy Darling Syndrome,' which I had never heard of. 'Because you're always trying to save little lost boys,' she said."

At the core of Lost Girl is Wendy's deeply emotional struggle to move on from the boy she first loved - the boy who told her to wait for him, that he'd come back, then never did. The process of letting go of a relationship, in one manner or another, is something we all can relate to. In the play, Wendy is content to be sad, allowing herself just eight minutes each day to fixate on Peter. For our heroine, letting go of sadness means letting go of memories - memories that keep her first love alive.

Memory is a pivotal theme throughout Lost Girl. Belflower says, "In Neverland, the land of forgetting, Wendy was tasked with remembering. She remembered all the things boys didn't have time for: bedtime stories, taking medicine." This points to the emotional labor many women take on in their relationships.

Reese Parish, a junior at Nicolet High School who so fully and phenomenally brings Wendy to life in this production, made a very wise observation during Thursday's post-show Talk Back: "Women give more of themselves in relationships than we mean to."

In the world of Lost Girl, this giving manifests in the depth of Wendy's memories. She can recall all kinds of details from her first encounter with Peter and her time spent in Neverland, yet she doesn't remember the wallpaper in her childhood nursery. Peter, on the other hand, remembers the wallpaper and little else.

The way in which details as small as wallpaper are woven throughout Lost Girl shows the artistry of Belflower's script. The dialogue feels real and unforced, with moments of laugh-aloud humor and even more moments of tenderness and fire. And yet there are these incredibly poetic and repetitious interludes, like a Greek chorus echoing both the thoughts of the Other and those inside Wendy's own head. On more than one occasion, the characters in Lost Girl muse "that's a pretty thought." There are indeed pretty thoughts aplenty.

Those thoughts, both pretty and raw, are brought to life by the tremendously gifted group of teens from the Rep's Professional Training Institute (PTI). The Institute is a free, year-long advanced actor training program for students in grades 9-12 who may have an interest in pursuing a career as a professional artist. What a joy to see this troupe of young people originate these roles! Their genuine connection and camaraderie is evident, and not once did they fumble. They do their "professional" title proud.

Belflower says these are the people she's writing for: people in the in-between. Between childhood and adulthood, that is. "I write for and about young people because there is so much life in-between," she says in her playwright's note. "Because of those feelings. Because of that search for light. Because the things we experience at that age are real, and they matter."

In their Talk Back, the PTI cast laid bare their overwhelming gratitude for Belflower, for putting pen to paper and letting their in-between voices be heard. Lost Girl speaks to the things they, as teens, are currently going through. "We're all a little Wendy," one said. The story of Peter Pan is so enduring, beloved, and adapted because it's easy to find commonality and connection in its themes - the preciousness of youth and fear of growing up.

Lost Girl draws the audience in through this story we've heard a dozen times before, then winds up bringing the high-flying fantasy back to solid ground. It's refreshing, bold, and brave to take such iconic characters into a new and very real place, teeming with the big, wild emotions of adolescence. Lost Girl reminds us that, as Peter says, "everything matters." The love, the loss, the way in which we grieve, and the time it takes to heal and grow. It matters whether you're sixteen or sixty. "You can't get back what you give," Belflower writes. "But you can keep giving." Lost Girl certainly gives with its whole heart.

*Photo credit Michael Brosilow.

Top photo from left to right: Mainyia Xiong, Meguire Hennes, Durran Goodwin Jr, Logan Muñoz, Reese Parish, Kenyon Terrell, Maricella Kessenich, Juliana Garcia-Malacara, Saleaqua Winston, and Dominic Schiro



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From This Author Kelsey Lawler

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