Noah Hankins, Alex Roby, Heidi Caroline Keck, & Mark Merk. Photo: Theatreworks of So In
Peter and the Starcatcher
By Rick Elice
Based on the book by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Directed by Jason Roseberry
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Peter and the Starcatcher is to Peter Pan what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz, a prequel/origin story that takes an unorthodox tone in telling its story. But where Wicked is epic and overbearing, Peter is charmingly antique and irreverent. Both are adapted from novels, and the differences may begin with the literary source. In any event, I much prefer Peter to Wicked.
The story follows two ships, The Wasp and The Neverland, and the disaster that befalls one ship so that three orphan boys and a girl find themselves shipwrecked on an island with pirates and the most outrageous Italianate indigenous tribe. But first playwright Rick Elice has the entire cast declare a mission statement about the nature of the joyous theatricality at work here.
While the production values or no less than we have come to expect from this company, the play demands inventiveness in the staging, so that a yellow rubber glove plays a bird that is more crucial to the story than anyone first realizes, the actors wield plungers when they fight, and the crocodile that appears is a masterpiece of crafting design on a shoestring budget. You have to see it for yourself.
There are also two identical packing trunks that are confused in best Bringing Up Baby fashion, and a magical substance called “starstuff” capable of transforming humans in ways that are better left unsaid. Suffice it to say that nothing will prepare you for the first scene in act two.
These characters will become the principals in J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, and Elice sketches in the elements that will become iconic details. One of the orphan boys (Alex Roby) has no name, but you don’t need three guesses to know what he will eventually call himself.
And young Molly Aster, the daughter of Lord Aster, who is in charge of…oh, really, the plot will tie me in knots if I continue. Molly is played by Heidi Caroline Keck as plucky and ingenious, the hero the story requires even if we keep expecting the fine Mr. Roby to step up, an unforced nod to feminism and one of the ways the story subverts traditional expectations.
The leader of the pirates, Black Stache, is the larger-than-life, show-stealing character, and the role invites wholesale swallowing of scenery, but Zachary Hebert plays him with an admirable balance of rakish charm and discipline. Mr. Hebert is wise enough to play it as it lays and allow the comic bombast to grow. The play will give him plenty of opportunities to hog the spotlight before the night is done, and the finale is built upon a delicious and unforgettable theatrical indulgence.
Jason M. Jones is a most excellent Smee, again with a balance of mugging and pratfalls against smaller, subtler moments. I’ll say the same for Jason Potts’ Bill Slank, shady Captain of the Neverland, Jeremy O’ Brien’s essay in silliness as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nanny, and Chris Haulter’s dry delivery as Alf. Andrew Morris as Lord Aster and Samuel Moore as Wasp Captain Robert Falcon Scott are pillars of distinguished rectitude and the script offers them slightly less opportunity to be silly, but they function well as members of this ensemble, called upon to carry off various offbeat representations of people and elements.
Of the three Boys, Alex Roby solidly occupies the center as the slightly befuddled lead, and Noah Hankins and Mark Merk are able support, with Mr. Hankins taking good advantage of some spotlighted moments in the latter half.
Peter and the Starcatcher sets up the J.M. Barrie works very nicely, remembering that the fun and mischief of youth is what matters most. But if you don’t care a whit for Pan, there is still great enjoyment to discover here, and Zachary Hebert’s work is an education in and of itself.
Peter and the Starcatcher
July 31 – August 4, August 7 – 11 @ 7:30 pm
August 11 @ 2:00 pm
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com