Peter and the Starcatcher - Hub Theatre Company
Peter and the Starcatcher – Hub Theatre Company
Review by James Wilkinson
Peter and the Starcatcher is producted by Hub Theatre Company. Written by Rick Elice. Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Music by Wayne Barker. Directed by Sarah Gazdowicz. Set Designer: Cassie Chapados. Lighting Design: Chris Bocchiaro. Costume Design: Erica Desautels. Props Designer: Cesara Walters.
If you come to Hub Theatre Company’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher be prepared to see the actors sweat. I mean that quite literally. Once the play properly kicks off, it’s packed with so much material and moves at such a breakneck pace, that no matter what else you think of the production, you have to admire the amount of zeal and stamina that the actors are generating. More than any play I’ve recently seen, you come into the performance space and sense that these actors are here to tell a story, and God damn it, they’re going to tell that story come hell or high water. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process just to soak up some of the residual energy, because it seems that everyone involved probably had the time of their life putting the show together. While watching the production, you occasionally get the feeling that the actors don’t even really need you to be there. They’re perfectly happy to be going through the story on their own; that there are others in the room seems incidental.
Rick Elice’s play is based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and comes with a built-in elevator pitch: it’s a Peter Pan origin story. Except that’s not totally accurate. Or rather, it’s only half of the story. The play, after all, is called Peter and the Starcatcher. One of the interesting things to report back is just how much of the story doesn’t focus on the boy who will become Peter Pan. The titular Starcatcher (well, Starcatcher-in-training) is a young English girl named Molly, who, during the reign of Queen Victoria, is traveling with her father to a faraway island where they can destroy a chest full of a magical powder called “Starstuff.” Also on board the boat are three young orphans who are being shipped out under much more nefarious circumstances. From this initial set-up follows a great big Gulliver’s Travels-style adventure full of pirates, mermaids, crocodiles, magic and danger. If you’re familiar with the Peter Pan story at all, (and thanks to Disney, who isn’t?), you’ll start to spot connections to Peter’s adventures with the Darling children throughout the evening. Some commented on, some not.
I think that the operative word when looking at Hub Theatre’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher is ‘play.’ Not ‘play’ as in theatre, but ‘play’ as in what children do. Every choice that the production makes seems to be geared towards recreating that sense of wonder and fun that young children have when they play make believe. There’s very little in the way of set pieces and props on stage and when they appear, they’re often representative rather than literal. A ribbon dancing stick becomes a pirate’s whip. A collection of kitchen utensils become weapons. A cardboard mustache stands in for the real thing. There’s a part of me that wants to roll my eyes at giving the show’s McGuffin the generic name “Starstuff,” but it works in the context of the show because it sounds like a name a kid would make up while playing with their friends. It almost feels more appropriate to call Sarah Gazdowicz the choreographer rather than the director. Everyone on stage is constantly moving as a company of twelve actors not only play roughly a hundred different characters, but use their bodies to fill in the missing pieces of the set, such as doors and ships. As you sit in the audience you hear the scurrying footsteps of the actors as they run around backstage like a gaggle of excited school children who have finally been let out to recess.
It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t love to play pirates? The script is chock full of anachronistic jokes and opportunities to ham it up and it’s clear that everyone involved is relishing the chance to bite down into the juicy material. I went on opening night and the audience around me howled with laughter pretty much from start to finish. I do have to confess that I was a little more reserved in my response. Part of my issue was that there’s just so much plot and storytelling crammed into the first half of the show that I felt I was constantly running to keep up with it. It’s not until Act Two that the show begins to calm down a bit and scenes are given more of a chance to breathe. There’s a lovely scene between Peter (Claire Koenig) and Molly (Lauren Elias) that manages to pull in some of the more magical elements of Cassie Chapados’ set and Chris Bocchiaro’s lighting design. And part of the reason I think it works is because the characters are given a chance to pause and hold the audience’s focus.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the production. This is an incredibly charming piece and I think you’d have to be made of stone to be immune to it. Including intermission, the show ran a bit over two and half hours but I was never bored or unengaged. In fact I was frequently bewitched by the inventive staging and the fun that everyone was having. I think Hub Theatre should also commended for casting the show with a more gender diverse eye. A quick look at the original Broadway cast list shows that it was performed with eleven men and one woman, which really doesn’t make sense. Girls can’t be pirates? Come on…
It’s a shame, actually, that the show needs to be advertised as “the Peter Pan origin story” because I think that the story works best when it can focus on being its own rousing adventure story rather than worrying about tying in threads from Pan lore. As much as it tries to sell Peter as its protagonist, really it’s Molly who is the show’s core. When the curtain rises, the characters inform that audience that everyone grows up, nothing is forever. But by the end of the show the newly christened Peter is flying off to live in a state of perpetual childhood. It’s Molly, off to the side, wistfully looking on, who has to let the story of Peter Pan move on. Off to enchant the next generation.
Peter and the Starcatcher is presented by Hub Theatre Company at First Church in Boston, November 2-17, 2018.
For tickets and information, visit their website at: www.hubtheatreboston.org