Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher (based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) accomplishes much. It’s an elucidation, a spoof, an homage, a riff and a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan. In some ways, perhaps it’s also reductive. Peter Pan, hybrid sprite and quintessential orphan, has captured the imagination of generations, a metaphor for grown men who can’t relinquish the exhilaration of boyhood. There’s so much going on beneath the surface of of Barrie’s subversive story: gender-bending, male identity, shadow self, the fey sparkle of immortality, the ugly side of adulthood.
Elice’s Starcatcher enjoys a strange attachment to its source material. The more it would seem to mock Peter Pan, the stronger the bond. Barrie absolutely insisted that Peter Pan would always be played by a female actor, while Peter the orphan in Starcatcher is the only character who never dabbles in transgender merriment. He is also more devoted to Molly (a stand in for Wendy) with no desire to be “adopted”. In many ways Starcatcher presents as comic fancy but the paradigm shift is clear. Barrie’s otherworldly scamp is forfeited for a tragic waif who loves his buddies, but finds the brilliant girl Molly utterly beguiling.
Molly and her dad, Lord Aster, are Starcatchers, they deal in starstuff, enchanted dust that transforms those it touches into the essence of their dearest wish. On a sea voyage, their paths cross with Ted, Prentiss and The Nameless Boy (Peter) three orphans who, abused though they may be, have no clue just how bleak their future is. Lord Aster must destroy a chest filled with starstuff, lest it transform the wicked into far more destructive monsters. Amidst a throng of pirates, sailors and dastardly malcontents, our heroes wind up on Mollusk Island, where their lives will be forever changed, and the inception of Peter Pan explained in its entirety.
Directed by Tyler Jeffrey Adams, Peter and the Starcatcher has been orchestrated with precision and panache. Starcatcher is a melange of raucous, wonderfully preposterous humor, with an undercurrent of folklore and issues that go to the core of our humanity. An adventurous farce undercut by serious themes. A precarious marriage of the giddy and somber. Adams takes on this tough task and makes it soar. Starcatcher seems to emerge from a dubious need to ground Peter Pan in the plausible, but Adams and this purposeful, versatile cast (and crew, et al) make it work, pulling us into the narrative, engaging us with warmth, silliness and the spillover between famished mortality and the supernatural. Don’t miss it.
[I was privileged to attend two different productions of Peter and the Starcatcher on the same weekend. One at Onstage in Bedford and the other at The Firehouse Theatre. Both had qualities to recommend them. Though the Bedford production closed before I had a chance to write my article, I urge you to read both pieces.]
The Firehouse Theatre presents Peter and the Starcatcher, playing April 6th-23th, 2017. 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmers Branch, Texas, 75234. 972-620-3747. www.thefirehousetheatre.com