I consider myself an involved father. I don’t just park my kids in front of movies for hours on end — I sit down and watch movies with them.
So take it on my authority: your appreciation of “Peter and the Starcatcher” — which opens Perseverance Theatre’s 38th season — depends on how old you are… at heart.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is many things: enchanting, funny, fast-paced, visually arresting and clever. It is simultaneously complicated and simple, grown-up and childlike, base (there are more than a few “fart” jokes) and erudite (there’s also a joke about Philip Glass symphonies) — all wrapped up in what’s essentially a prequel to “Peter Pan.”
But “Peter Pan” it is not. There are no complicated set pieces — just canvas and rope and a few choice props — and no big song and dance numbers — though the play does include original music by Wayne Barker, ably performed by Kaylee Bonatakis and Jon Hays. Most importantly there’s no jerky “flying” around on “invisible” guywires. Instead, Perseverance’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” relies on inventiveness to evoke fantasy, which, in a way, makes the play even more fantastical.
Adapted by Rick Elice from a children’s novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, “Peter and the Starcatcher” tells the story of how a nameless orphan metamorphoses into the immortal Peter Pan — along with how the “Lost Boys” get “lost,” how Tinkerbell becomes a fairy and how a certain megalomaniacal pirate captain loses his hand (presumably to replace with a prosthetic hook). The show features ocean voyages, a shipwreck, a magic substance called “star-stuff,” a father and daughter who talk to each other in animal calls (sometimes remotely through glowing necklaces), a giant crocodile, pirates, mermaids and an island of natives who speak a language solely comprised of Italian food dishes.
If that sounds like a lot, well, it is (with a run time of 135 minutes, it’s also a bit long). But for those who can give themselves over to its whimsical, albeit frenetic, energy, “Peter and the Starcatcher” may be highly entertaining.
For one, the play looks great. As I said, the scenery is purposefully — and wonderfully — sparse (although the costuming, by Elizabeth Rocha, is purposefully — and wonderfully — elaborate). This leaves it up to the actors to create both the characters and the world they inhabit.
In other words, in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the actors provide the settings. Under the resourceful direction of Teresa K. Pond, the new Producing Artistic Director of Cyrano’s in Anchorage, a modest cast of 12 not only portrays a host of lead and supporting roles, but also the holds of two boats, a jungle, a stormy ocean and an enchanted grotto, one scene flowing directly into the next. The actors take turns delivering narrative while the others assume poses of the action described, sometimes speaking lines in unison… occasionally in time to music. I’ve seen this type of kinetic theatre referred to as “locomotive storytelling.” Apt name. Hats off to the entire cast for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to achieve that level of synchrony.
Indeed, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a true team effort, giving every cast member multiple moments to shine, from James Sullivan’s absurdly prim drag portrayal of Mrs. Bumbrake to “her” hapless paramour (and pirate) Smee (John Galas). As the 13-year-old Boy, Austin Roach, in his Perseverance Theatre debut, achieves a nice balance between adolescent boredom and adolescent hopefulness; Sylvia Kwan plays Molly, the aspiring starcatcher, with a charming precociousness.
However, “Peter and the Starcatcher” saves the juiciest, hammiest part for bombastically bumbling Captain Black Stache (Kelly Rossberg). Rossberg, also a newcomer to the Perseverance stage, has little choice but to inflate himself into the role; his ineffectual swashbuckling steals several scenes.
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention the crocodile, artfully rendered as a giant, looming shadow puppet. Who doesn’t love a giant, looming shadow puppet?
But of course, like I said, all this may be too much. With so many detours, some are bound to hit dead ends; with so many attempts at humor, some are bound to fall a little flat. Personally, I found the plot overly complex and some of the “tie-ins” to “Peter Pan” more convenient than organic. I also wonder what, exactly, a starcatcher does, because I don’t recall anyone catching any stars. Molly looked after a box of starstuff, but wouldn’t that make her a “starminder” or a “startender”? “Starwrangler”?
Obviously, all this might not matter to you. As long as you’re willing to go wherever the show wants to take you — no questions asked — you’ll probably love “Peter and the Starcatcher,” no matter your age. Does that mean it will make you feel like a kid again? I don’t know, but at my performance they sold out of cookies.
• Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau-based writer and humorist.