“Use your thoughts to hoist the sails” the play Peter and The Starcatcher advises the audience in the first few moments of this clever, hysterical and thought provoking play.
It is impossible not to acquiesce to this request.
I entered the theater on opening night with trepidation and excitement. Relatively new to the theater circuit, Peter and the Starcatcher is making its regional premiere debut at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Just one year ago, the Broadway production of this play written by Rick Elice and based on the novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson won five Tony Awards. I could not help but wonder if USF could bring this award winning play to the stage and give it justice? Turns out the initial gutsy decision to bring this play to the Festival stage was a brilliant move.
The plot line itself is intriguing. Who doesn’t want to learn Peter Pan’s back story? In 1885 two ships christened The Wasp and The Neverland take to the high seas. On The Neverland, three orphan boys encounter the spirited 13-year-old girl Molly (Betsy Mugavero) who happens to be an apprentice starcatcher. One of the orphans, known simply as Boy, is especially tortured and withdrawn except for his frequent outbursts of how much he hates adults. Molly meets Boy (Rhett Guter) and draws him out of his shell and into adventure after adventure.
On The Wasp is Molly’s father, the famous starcatcher, Lord Aster (Larry Bull). He is guarding a decoy trunk full of a mysterious treasure. When the infamous Black Stache (Quinn Mattfeld) discovers there is treasure on the seas he obviously goes after it, attacking both The Neverland and The Wasp. When a storm ensues, there is mayhem aboard all the ships as everyone tries to steal or save the mysterious trunk. Peter (the Boy), Molly and the “lost boys” find themselves in one crisis after another as they discover their own strength and follow their own dreams. Meanwhile, Black Stache is never far behind with his motley crew and ridiculous antics as he follows the treasure chest from ship to ship and finally to a nearby island. In the end we discover not only Peter Pan’s past, but Hook’s, the Neverland mermaids, and Tinkerbell’s back story.
After watching the show it is obvious that creating this play’s success was an intricate clever dance that necessitated stellar talent at every level of production from conceptualization to performance. To begin with a whimsical set (Joe Winiarski)complete with two ship hulls framing the performers’ space and a copper shimmering star in the background has overtones of Disney (they were involved after all in the initial development of the Broadway play). I couldn’t help but feel a little bubble of hope as I sat down to the opening scene. It wasn’t until several minutes into the play that I realized the ships’ decks housed the play’s equivalent of an orchestra – a one man band in each ship created sound effects and music throughout the play. Samuel Clien as conductor/piano and Jonathan Nathan on percussion were just one of many unexpected surprises that make up this production.
I was taken immediately with the staging and prop usage in this play where a thick heavy rope could be a creaking ship’s cabin one moment, and Black Stache’s mirror the next. Actors switched from pirates to mermaids to British Navy officers to ship doors from one moment to the next in a way that had me reeling in amazement. How did they keep it all straight? More importantly, how did they create the illusion so effortlessly for the audience that these madcap character switches were perfectly logical? I think it may have had something to do with the director Brian Vaughn. Everything was so brilliantly timed and delivered.
One of the more delightful side notes of this play was the clever word craft used throughout the play, especially by Black Stache. Mattfeld was absolutely belly laugh hysterical in this role. Every time he took the stage there were giggles and guffaws. All of the lead roles were so perfectly cast. Mugavero played Molly with precocious energy. She was spunky and intelligent and the epitome of hope. Rhett Guter’s complicated portrayal of Boy/Peter was everything a 13-year-old orphan boy should be — confused, tortured, a dreamer on the cusp of finding his identity.
I loved this silly, ridiculous, and fun play. But it was more than just stardust and laughter and silliness. It is also about the power of imagination and hope despite all odds. It is easily my favorite play of the season. I will give this one caution. This may be a story about a legendary childhood favorite character but it does contain some language and innuendos. It may not be appropriate for younger children. However, I will be taking my teen to see this play that abounds in humor and the aspirations of youth.
Tickets for Peter and the Starcatcher can be purchased at bard.org or by calling 1800-PLAYTIX. Peter and the Starcatcher plays in the Randall L. Jones Theatre through October 18, 2013.