“Following Wendy,” British playwright Penny Gunter’s startling new take on J.M. Barrie’s classic, will be read Sunday as part of the Road Theatre Company’s Summer Playwrights Festival. The hit at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival doesn’t exactly conjure Cathy Rigby in tights.
“It’s ‘Peter Pan’ as a thriller,” says director Amanda Massie. “It’s dark. It’s not Disney.”
The 21-year-old Gunter started writing at 13 when a friend dragged her to a playwriting class. She’s always been intrigued by people’s need “to believe in the impossible” and loved “Peter Pan's” depiction of two worlds that play off each other.
“When you’re very young, you don’t get all of Barrie’s adult references,” she explains. “I wanted to explore all the clues hidden in the story.” With its “Gossip Girl” cool and hallucinogenic sequences, Gunter’s play may not look much like Barrie’s, but both works explore friendship, desire and the consequences of not growing up.
“Our generation creates so many alternate realities to escape life,” says Massie, who will stage a full production of the show at Pepperdine University in December. “We don’t communicate in person that much, and we don’t deal with the consequences of that. This play is a young person saying, ‘Maybe we’re not doing everything right.’ ”
Gunter has already attracted attention in Britain. She recently won a place in the BBC’s new mentoring program Writersroom 10, and next month she’ll take a second play to the Edinburgh Fringe. “32 Teeth” follows a desperate plot to save a baby with the help of the Tooth Fairy. A very scary Tooth Fairy.
“The wonderful thing about Penny is how she blends realism and fantasy,” says Massie. “She deals with real issues but with an element of fun.”
Gunter just wants to keep writing. “I guess I’m young enough to make mistakes,” she says. “So I’m trying to experiment as much as I can.”
— Charlotte Stoudt
The Road Theatre Company’s Summer Playwrights Festival runs July 11-17 at the Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood.
Above: The actors reading Penny Gunter's "Following Wendy" at the Road Theatre's playwrights festival are, from left, Sierra Fisk, Camille Montgomery, Keelia Flinn, Sean Wing, Adam Al-Rayess and Ken Korpi. Credit: Anne Cusack /Los Angeles Times.