Peter and the Starcatcher at IU’s Ruth N. Halls Theatre is a fast paced character and costume filled adventure that calls for audience alertness. The show gives us a back story for Peter and is a prequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy.
The play and the book it is based on grew from co-author Ridley Pearson’s five year old daughter’s question:” How did Peter meet Captain Hook in the first place?” Pearson, a veteran writer of mysteries proposed the project to fellow rock band member and Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry. The unlikely pair collaborated on one book and then a series that has become five. The first Peter and the Starcatchers is the basis for Rick Elice’s Tony Award winning play that IU’s director Murray McGibbon and a talented cast are presenting in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre.
As the play opens at dockside, two ships are being prepared for a journey. Captain Scott and Lord Aster will be on the fleet Wasp with a trunk of Starstuff slated for disposal in an island volcano. Lord Aster’s daughter Molly with her nanny Mrs. Bumbrake will be on the slower Neverland with a decoy trunk of sand. Captain Slank of the Neverland switches the trunks. As the ships prepare to cast off a trio of orphan boys are loaded aboard the Neverland and one catches Molly’s eye.
The journey proceeds. The crew of the Wasp are imprisoned by pirates led by the impressively mustached malaprop mouthing Black Stache with his able assistant Smee. Discovering that their trunk is full of sand Black Stachealters course and it’s off in pursuit of the other ship. Meanwhile on the Neverland the Nanny has struck up a romance with Alf and thus diverted allows Molly to slip off, meet the orphans and even tell them a bed time story.
In the fray of the battle between the Wasp and the Neverland there’s plenty of confusion about who and whom, the boy is swept overboard and saved by the strong swimming Molly. And finally saved by using the trunk of starstuff to float to an island. Somehow things quiet down a bit and the act ends as Black Stache and the boy share a moment of reflection on an empty trunk. It’s here that the boy becomes Peter…the Pan part will have to wait.
The second act of Peter and the Starcatcher is filled with adventure on Mollusk Island where the bitter native leader was a former kitchen slave in England. He’s quite intent on waring against anything British and on feeding as many as possible to the island’s giant crocodile, Mr. Grin. Resolution comes when the former scullery slave discovers that he once shared kitchen pleasures with Molly’s nanny. In what seems like a slightly too lengthy resolution Peter and the Starcatcher wraps all of its details into the J. M. Barrie classic. Peter adds the Pan to his name, learns to fly and enlists his orphan companions Prentiss and Ted. Black Stache loses his hand. The crocodile has been equipped with a clock. Lord Aster creates a prototype of Tinkerbell. Molly and her daughter will await the every youthful Peter’s yearly visits. Frankly, it was quite touching.
Lisa Podulka made a doughty Molly. Ethan Carpenter was her coldly rigid father Lord Aster. Trevor Purkiser was the diffident Boy grown into the more assertive Peter. Joshua Smith and the ever comical Connor Starks were his orphan pals. Jay Hemphill was the flexible Mrs. Bumbrake with Luke Major as her smitten love Alf. George Mulder and Marshall Moller were the captains of the Wasp and the Neverland. The star of the production is the unforgettable Michael Bayler as the Captain Hook prototype Black Stace. It’s a swashbuckling role and he played it to the hilt. Bayler was ably abetted by Caleb Curtis as Smee.
Alana Yurczyk’s richly detailed and realized design offers lots of levels, nooks and even a few crannies for the imaginative production. Costume designer Courtney Foxworthy’s costumes for all the regular characters were nicely stylish, detailed and appropriate. She’ll be remembered for the wild assemblage of mermaids that opens the second act. Garish costumes with every element of a bathroom from toilet plungers to faucets, to toilet paper rolls and on and on appearing as brassieres. Reuben Lucas’s back screen projections supported the fast flowing scene changes and action. Darrian Brimberry designed the lighting for the varied scenes. Ray Fellman skillfully directed the music from the piano with the aid of inventive percussionist Joshua Bowman.
Intricately worked out direction and character exploriation is by Murray McGibbon working with choreographer Berklea Going.
Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker plays through Saturday November 4 in IU’s Ruth N. Halls Theatre
When you reread this review at WFIU dot ORG/ARTS, you’ll also find an interview with director Murray McGibbon and actor Trevor Purkiser.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker