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Theatre Review: CATCO’s Peter and the Starcatcher is Charming and Dazzling

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Review: CATCO’s Peter and the Starcatcher is Charming and DazzlingDanny Turek (left) and Emma Cordray in CATCO's production of Peter and the Starcatcher, showing December 2-20, 2015. Photo by Ben Sostrom.
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CATCO, in a rare union of their adult (CATCO Is Theatre) and children’s (CATCO Is Kids) programs, opened a winsome, charming production of Peter and the Starcatcher last weekend.

This play by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker is a theatrical adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s extrapolated history/origin story of the Peter Pan story. It follows, in large part, Molly Aster (Emma Cordray) aspiring to follow her famous father, Lord Aster (Brad Barbin) as a Starcatcher whose powers are never made entirely clear but she and her father communicate through glowing amulets that also react in the presence of “star stuff.”  She’s placed on a slow ship, The Neverland, going to the same location as her father on the ship The Wasp, the kingdom of Rundoon, in the care of her nanny Betty Bumbrake (a very funny Andrew Levitt) to be kept safer because his ship carries the aforementioned star stuff which Queen Victoria has commanded be destroyed on the other side of the world.

This is complicated by Neverland’s captain, Bill Slank (Jonathan Collura) switching an identical trunk full of sand for the treasure meant for the other ship. And complicated further by the presence of three orphans held prisoner on the ship, sold to slavery or worse to the king of Rundoon, the most prominent for Molly and for the audience being a boy who comes into the name Peter (Danny Turek).   The final complication that sets the plot fully spinning is the Wasp being overtaken by pirates, led by Black Stache (Mark Mineart) and Smee (David Harewood). From there it’s a whirlwind of frantic action and sly, winking humor to get us to where the characters we think we know start.

Part of the pleasure of this kind of play is seeing how the signposts we know from the original children’s tale get inserted, used, teased out and subverted. This production, directed by Steven Anderson, does a spectacular job of making these appearances, these flashes of recognition, feel earned and feel organic to what’s happening right then on stage, and Anderson gets the most out of a remarkable cast.

Emma Cordray’s Molly is perfect, not one note struck wrong, a believable take on the too-smart-too-soon-almost-friendless child but with an honest belief in the goodness of the world and an assurance that things will ultimately work out if you try hard enough. Danny Turek’s Peter has a fascinating, deserved anger at the world, again and again teetering on the brink of discouragement and self-destruction as he says “Grownups always lie,” brought back by Molly’s good spirit and the faith of his friends, played beautifully by Colby Tarrh and Connor Moore.

In the adult side of the coin, Jonathan Collura’s cynical antihero is the rock of the piece, a grounding in the reality of the setting and a baseline around which the absurdity can bounce without ever getting thrown. Collura also does double-duty as Music Director, frequently manning the piano when not on stage. Andrew Levitt’s caretaker/surrogate mother to Molly is a vision of strength and slapstick and Levitt’s love interest played by Andrew Protopapas gets some of the biggest laughs in this very funny play. Mineart’s Black Stache and Harewood’s Smee are a delightful comedy duo, with Mineart performing that age-old tradition of the fourth-wall-shattering, self-aware villain, both invested in his own myth-making and deeply conscious of the absurdity of what’s happening at any time.

While this adaptation, and Anderson’s production, never loses sight of the original story’s parable about what we lose in growing up and how sad that can sometimes be, it’s never didactic or heavy-handed. It can be read as a lighter take on the perils of imperialism and arrogance that were dealt with so sharply in The Elephant Man. The focus is always rightly kept on the pratfalls and rapid-fire wordplay. It’s full of delightful old-school stage effects, ropes standing for a ship and indicating how the waves throw it, characters hanging upside down, flying hinted at without ever quite going there.

The humor relies a little too often on easy anachronism but far more of the jokes land than miss. It feels a little too long for as fast-moving as much of it is, at two and a half hours there are moments that drag. And the use of music seemed strange, occasionally breaking out into full songs, but not usually using those songs to develop character or advance the plot, could have been off-putting to certain ears though they were executed very well. Those quibbles aside, Peter and the Starcatcher was a crowdpleaser and a delight start to finish.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through December 20th with shows at 8:00pm Thursday through Saturday, 11:00am Wednesday, and 2:00pm Sunday. For tickets and more info, please visit http://catco.org/shows/2015-2016/peter-and-the-starcatcher

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