And like many a good story, this one launches when a boy meets a girl. She is named Molly; he has no name, at least not one that he can remember, so he is simply called The Boy.
This also is a tale of two ships, which have been enlisted in a secret mission on behalf of the Queen. One ship holds precious cargo—something of great value, locked inside a trunk. The other holds an identical trunk containing sand, to be used as a decoy. The Queen has entrusted the valuable cargo to Lord Leonard Aster—Molly’s father—and Molly, a strong-minded girl with a taste for adventure, has insisted that she be allowed to accompany him on his voyage to the distant land of Rundoon. Lord Aster has reluctantly agreed, on condition that she be escorted by her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, and that the two of them make the journey on the slower, safer of the two ships, the Neverland, while Lord Aster travels on the Wasp, the fastest ship in the Queen’s fleet.
|Peter and the Starcatcher set design by Michael B. Raiford.|
But Slank is only the lesser of two villains in this story, for shortly after the two ships set sail, the seamen on the Wasp reveal themselves to be pirates—including one Mr. Smee—led by their nefarious captain, The Black Stache. Stache wants whatever is in that trunk—gold? jewels?—and he’s none too happy when he opens it to discover only sand. Heads will roll and planks will be walked if Stache doesn’t get what he’s after.
As the story unfolds, Molly and The Boy encounter glowing amulets, magic dust, a flying cat, a hurricano, mermaids, a volcano and a crocodile named Mr. Grin, and eventually find themselves stranded on an uncharted island peopled by hostile natives called the Mollusks. Working together to overcome one adversity after another, Molly and The Boy grow closer and even begin to learn the meaning of love. Meanwhile, we discover how The Boy acquires a name—Peter Pan—and how a great many of the surprising elements in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, came to be.
While the book Peter and the Starcatchers may be the origin story of Peter Pan, there’s no question that Molly is its protagonist. “We both have daughters,” Barry has said, “and we wanted there to be a girl character who was strong and brave.”
The stage version of Peter and the Starcatcher (Elice chose to drop the final “s” from the title) began its journey in 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse, then moved to an off-Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop. Ecstatic reviews prompted a transfer to Broadway (2012), where the play earned the most Tony nominations of any play in history—nine—and won five awards.
Part of the play’s wide appeal can be traced to Pearson and Barry’s original story—a fantastic concatenation of elements from J.M. Barrie filtered through the authors’ own fertile imaginations. But for adults in particular, the highly theatrical story-telling method provides at least half the fun. As Elice describes it in a prefatory note, “The dozen actors play everyone and everything—sailors, pirates, orphans, natives, fish, mermaids, birds ... even doors, passageways, masts, storms, jungles.” They are joined on stage by two musicians who accompany several songs sung by the cast (including a show-stopping mermaid number) and also provide live foley sound effects throughout the play. In a nod to British music hall entertainments and holiday pantos, the role of the nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, is played by a male actor—Tony Abatemarco in SCR’s production—and the prominent moustache that gives The Black Stache his name is painted on, à la Groucho Marx.
|Costume renderings for Peter and the Starcatcher by designer Angela Balogh Calin.|
One doesn’t have to be a child to appreciate Peter and the Starcatcher—in fact some of its delights are best enjoyed by adults—but it doesn’t hurt to adopt a childlike openness and belief that, in the world of theatre, at least, anything is possible. When J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan—a character who has long since entered the realm of myth in Western culture—he understood that growing up can be a difficult adventure, and that at one time or another almost everyone has felt the desire to hang onto or reclaim childlike innocence, playfulness and freedom from worldly cares. Peter and the Starcatcher is a gift to that part of us, wrapped in the brightest imaginable theatrical trimmings.
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