In what might be subtitled “The Unplugged Version” of J.M. Barrie’s lost-boy tale, “Peter/Wendy” eschews Flying by Foy and other special effects to get to the heart of the boy who won’t grow up.
Unlike “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Curran Theatre, this West Coast premiere from the Custom Made Theatre Company, an adaptation by director Jeremy Bloom, tells the Peter Pan story you may know and love.
It’s done in a simple, heartfelt manner that, while occasionally self-consciously earnest, engagingly explores the questions of innocence, friendship, family and loss that have made the story a classic for more than a century.
A mostly compact 70-minute presentation, there are some overly expository or contemplative moments where the momentum drags. There’s also an annoying underscoring by The Books that more often competes with the performance instead of enhancing it.
Still, from the start, Bloom’s inventive staging invites the audience to shed concerns of the day. Members of the colorfully-striped-pajama-clad cast greet you and ask, “Do you have a happy thought?” Anything shared is then written on the floor of the stage in a giant collage of shared optimism.
The story proper begins with the actors deploying bare-bulbed lamps and free-floating window shades to create charmingly simple but effective effects.
Tinkerbell is a set of light-up finger rings. Peter’s missing shadow is mimed on a backlit sheet. It’s all designed to engage make-believe play and touch the “inner child” of folks in the audience — and succeeds brilliantly.
As Peter, Sam Bertken is the only genuine boy in the cast. He displays a winsome openness, tinged with a bit of the brat to mask the character’s uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability.
Elissa Beth Stebbins plays a confident Wendy, sweetly flirtatious at the start and engaged in the wonder of Neverland, but occasionally too knowing and removed from the adventure.
Terry Bamberger has great fun with the two sides of her trouser-role coin with a befuddled, statistic-spouting Mr. Darling and a saucy Captain Hook. She’s exceedingly well-partnered with Terry Saunders, who plays a loving Mrs. Darling and a comical Smee.
Completing the versatile cast are Anya Kazimierski as a sassy, funny and vocally intriguing Tinkerbell; Jessica Jade Rudholm as a wise Tiger Lily; and Jeunee Simon, sporting arresting makeup details, as both a lost boy and a mermaid.
As Bloom’s cast members take their deserved bows, it is striking to note that, as sometimes happens in life, all the happy thoughts we began with have been trampled to dust. Thankfully, an ageless Peter will return to inspire new generations of wishful thinkers.
Where: Custom Made Theatre Company, 1620 Gough St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. most Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 15
Tickets: $15 to $33
Contact: (415) 798-2682, www.custommade.org