BWW Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at FAC
Is there any staple of children's literature more existentially tragic than Peter Pan? Beneath the tale of the eternal boy who flies with faeries and battles with pirates lies a story about the bittersweet inevitability of growing old, and of a child destined to be forever left behind by a world that moves on without him. This underlying sadness is a key part of the fascination J.M. Barrie's work holds over the generations, and one which holds true in Rick Elice's play Peter and the Starcatcher.
Based on a fantasy novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Starcatcher is the sort of reimagined origin story made popular by the likes of Wicked: the Boy Who Never Grew Up is here just a nameless Boy (Levi Penley), one of a handful of orphans being shipped across the sea to the mysterious island of Rundoon. Also making the journey are Lord Aster (Karl Brevik) and his pert, eager daughter Molly (Rebecca Myers), who are protecting a mysterious treasure for Queen Victoria. Such a MacGuffin guarantees that the "treasure" is something far more rare and dangerous than gold or silver, and dangerous forces will be after it. A switched trunk, a pair of ships (one of which is inauspiciously named Never Land), a shipwreck, bands of pirates and natives, and a tender relationship with Molly figure into the Boy's rite of passage. Eventually, he will gain a name, a home, and a nemesis in the form of Black Stache (Jordan Leigh), a swaggering pirate who has theatricality (and a right hand) to spare.
There is a certain innocence in the staging of Ellis' play, in which eleven men and one woman not only play all the characters but also create the settings with their bodies, crates, bits of rope, and other assorted objects. This jury-rigged feel is reflected in Christopher L. Sheley's set, with its rough wooden ship's deck and primitive-painted tropical island. It is a place for imagination and enthusiasm, and the cast embraces the mood with gusto. The broad staging is very entertaining in places (the mermaid number opening the second act is a highlight), but in others director Joye Cook-Levy's stylized touches dampen the emotional impact, such as in the Boy and Molly's first encounter.
Nevertheless, Peter and the Starcatcher evolves in a way that brings bittersweet wonder to the evening. Penley brings a mixture of gravity and joy to the Boy who would be Pan, highlighting his quiet observance and bitter anger at an adult world that has failed him. Robbed of his childhood and distrustful of authority, he is a perfect candidate for someone who comes to embrace eternal youth. Myers' Molly, meanwhile, is all too eager to be endowed with adult responsibility, and she has the self-assurance and insistent manner to match. She and Peter meet at the crossroads, and share a tender understanding before their paths diverge again. Lightening the mood, Leigh's Black Stache declaims, malaprops, and steals scenery with delicious bravado. Ironic, that Peter should get all the weighty adult moments, while his soon-to-be archvillain embodies the play's inner child.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER plays now through April 24th, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets, contact the box office at 719-634-5581 or visit csfineartscenter.org.