Peter and the Starcatcher, a play by Rick Elice, Music by Wayne Barker. Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and the novel "Peter and Wendy" by J. M. Barrie. Directed by Michael Berresse. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The Mollusks, led by Fighting Prawn (Ted Souhrada - r) capture the lost boys, Peter, Ted and Prentiss (Adam Shonkwiler, Devin Johnson, Max Sheldon); photo: provided
"I'm in no mood for MuShu, Alf."
Fantasy, being what it is, is not everyone's cup of Oo-Long. Satire, doing what it does, does not satisfy everyone's taste for cynicism. So, a fantasy-satire is going to be like a "dose of salts" to a number of people. "Peter and the Starcatcher" is a wake-up call to those who believe that fantasy and satire are just not what they're looking for in an evening out. The production on stage at the Weston Playhouse takes both of those elements and blends them into a cohesive, fun-filled experience where the formerly familiar become new again and questions we never knew we had are answered before we can think of them.
Director Michael Berresse has taken a very dynamic approach to this material. Even the quiet moments are filled with images and motion and sound. The songs sung in this show (and it is definitely NOT a musical) are there because they must be there. The second act opening is one of the funniest things I've ever seen on any stage and the cast assembled by director and producers here make it into the epitome of satire and fantasy combined. Somewhere, I thought, Ziegfeld and his cohorts were falling off their heavenly clouds, overcome with mirth.
This is the story of how Peter Pan found his name, his home and his companions. This is the story of a girl named Molly, an apprentice starcatcher in Queen Victoria's time (a starcatcher is someone who is appointed by the Queen to dispose of starstuff so people with evil intentions are unable to use it). This is the story of orphans and transformed mollusks and converted fish. It is the tale of a nanny who falls in love with a sailor. There are so many small tales, all related to one another, that the mind swims, dazed in the enchanted lagoon where a yellow finch finds a new identity as a tiny, light-filled fairy. It is the story of how a legend is created and a series of romantic encounters really reflect back on just one. Oddly, it is about us. It is about the truths we never think of while awake, but only seek and find in our dreams.
The cast is delicious! Rose Hemingway is an absolutely perfect young teenager with ambition and intentions. She gives the girl a truly heroic presence on stage. Adam Shonkwiler, No-Name, later Peter, plays the role with both guts and humility, an uneven combination that makes the boy very appealing. In their scenes together they are more Romeo and Juliet than the originals must have been, their love seemingly doomed until we understand the outcome. As their companions Devin Johnson as Ted and Max Sheldon as Prentiss are just the sort of friends anyone would want. They play the quirks with equal strength to their assets. Ted's appetite is particularly enjoyable and Prentiss's ego gets just enough play to make him endearing.
On the opposite side of the picture is the pirate, Black Stache, played with an over-the-top enthusiasm by Matthew Wilkas who takes a lovingly long time to reveal his character's future and future name when the time comes. This rewrite of our former backgrounding on the matter is a pure delight in Wilkas's hands. Tom Souhrada as Fighting Prawn, leader of the Mollusks and former pastry chef, is the Prince of Pure Delight. He could not have managed to be funnier and more menacing at the same time. Smee is played by Michael Mendez and if I told you all the delicious things he does I'd have to kill you; you need to see him for yourself.
John Leonard Thompson plays Lord Aster with just the right amount of parental authority. Matt Gibson gives Hawking Clam, the son of Fighting Prawn, a perfect dignity that is rightly amusing. The romantic duo of Alf (John E. Brady) a pirate who runs off with the nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (Tom Aulino) is a constant, riotous combination, a running gag of cross-overs and toss-away lines. Aulino also plays Teacher, a former salmon, and has the most brilliant tail to tell.
Weston's physical production is large and beautiful and it is an overwhelming shame that this show is only playing for a single week. Timothy R. Mackabee has created a set that seems to be part this and part that and it works the way places do in our dreams, transforming itself into just what we need at each moment. Seth Reiser has lit the show with that same magical quality. Leon Dobkowski's costumes are perfect for each character. Max Grossman's musical direction and sound effects are a constant delight. Patricia Norcia has coached accents and dialects so intricately that there are times when words get lost within their authenticity but the story carries no matter what you can or cannot understand.
Hie ye to Weston! If, like me, you missed this show on Broadway where it garnered a half dozen Tony Awards, you must not make that same mistake now. So come with me where dreams are born and time is never planned (two hours and twenty minutes, actually), and take a cruise on the Neverland to foreverland.
Molly (Rose Hemingway) tries to rescue her father, Lord Aster (John Leonard Thompson); photo: provided
Black Stache, the pirate (Matthew Wilkas) and his aide, Smee (Michael Mendez); photo: provided
Molly and Peter walk the rigging on their ship; photo provided
Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Weston Playhouse on the green in Weston, VT, through July 25 ONLY. For tickets and information call the box office at 802-824-5288 or go on line at westonplayhouse.org.