Directed by Steven Atkinson
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
Words are inherently powerful tools, even more powerful when written and perhaps most powerful when spoken. This is the case with Harry Melling’s compelling script “Peddling” currently running at 59E59 Theater C and part of the presenting organization’s “2014 Brits Off-Broadway Series.” Mr. Melling’s script traces the often explosive day-in-the-life of Michael the nineteen-year-old “boy” peddling his “everyday essentials” as part of “Boris; young offender’s scheme.”
The boy’s story is somewhat universal: Michael – like so many others – “was born and didn’t grow.” “Something happened and [he] still don’t know quite what.” Having missed living in a happy family and enjoying a mother who liked him, Michael obviously took to the streets of London, fell in with the wrong crowd, and became a juvenile offender. Now in a residence with other offenders, his days are spent peddling wares to justify his room and board and – at least temporary – secure his escape from homelessness.
Like Don Quixote, Michael battles enemies real and imagined and attempts to ward off his own personal demons as he tries “to get back on track” without the “atomic meltdown” of low self esteem and rage at the establishment that consume his recovering mind, body, and spirit. Michael needs to discover his “point of turning – where one thing becomes the other.” When did innocence cease for Michael and when precisely did he “come to offend?” But Michael’s rage often overcomes reason and he retreats into his mantra “we gonna disturb the peace/we gonna make a noise so loud – that no one won’t know us./no one won’t know me.”
Michael’s important journey in Harry Milling’s script is unfortunately overshadowed by the somewhat pretentious production design meant to enhance his engaging prose-poem. “Peddling” is a spoken word event which does not need an elaborate (and obviously expensive) set. The four-sided scrim obfuscates the performer’s expressions and although it is meant to signify Michael’s imprisonment in his past, it prevents the audience from fully engaging in Michael’s cries to be recognized and accepted as “something made of flesh and blood!”
“Peddling” is about the importance of the journey to redemption and release from self-doubt. Michael wants a second chance; he wants to “take a first step,” he “wants a shot” at full personhood and the ability to experience the real “life’s essentials.” The play would have worked better as a pure performance piece. Without the trappings, Mr. Milling’s words could have become flesh and dwelt among the audience “full of grace and truth.” The playwright needs to trust his material and trust his audience’s ability to process that material. That said, it would be worth the trip to listen to Mr. Milling’s words. All you have to do is close your eyes and listen.