Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Theater Review: Peter and the Starcatcher -- The Bushnell

The Peter and the Starcatcher Tour Company; Photo by Jenny Anderson

The Beginnings of Neverland Brought to Life in a Prequel for Grownups
By Lauren Yarger
Why didn’t Peter Pan want to grow up? How did Wendy end up with the lost boys and how did Captain Hook lose his hand?

The answers to those and other questions are explored in Peter and the Starcatcher, a witty, intelligent play by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (which of course was based on the characters created by J.M. Barrie.) The tour of the show, which won a number of Tonys for scenic, costume and technical design among other awards, gets a run this week at The Bushnell.

Looming sets and a golden proscenium set the stage (Donyale Werle, design) for the adventures of Peter (Joey deBettencourt), known at first only as Boy, his orphan friends Prentiss (Carl Howell) and Ted (Edward Tournier) and Molly (Megan Stern, who is, well, very stern), a girl who can catch “starstuff” and harness its magical powers.

As a starcatcher in training, Molly and her father, Lord Aster (Nathan Hosner), a full-fledged starcatcher, must protect the stuff from evil people who would wish to use its power to rule the world, so they split up, Lord Aster traveling with the real trunk of starstuff aboard the ship Wasp, under the command of his friend, Captain Scott (Ian Michael Stuart), and Molly and her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (Benjamin Schrader), sailing with a decoy trunk aboard the Neverland. Thanks to the starstuff they wear in amulets around their necks, father and daughter are able to communicate long distance. Dodo bird is their language of choice.

The Neverland’s captain Slank (Jimonn Cole) switches the trunks so that the starstuff ends up aboard his ship, which is transferring the three orphan boys into slavery (and maybe worse).

Various adventures ensue, include a romance for Mrs. Bumbrake with flatulent sailor Alf (Harter Clingman), capture by a band of Mullusk island natives led by Fighting Prawn (Lee Zarrett), a chase by a crocodile and battles with pirates, led by the poetic, malapropism-spewing Black Stache (John Sanders, who energizes this tour production), and his grammar-correcting first mate, Smee (Luke Smith).

Ropes become rooms and oceans, people become doors, gloves become birds and some very clever staging, directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, with movement by Steven Hoggett magically unfolds, enhanced by Wayne Barker’s music and sound effects contributed by two musicians housed upper stage right and left in a sort of crow’s-nest setting. Bushnell CEO David Fay comments in the show’s program about the “green” nature of the scenic design and the use of recycled elements in it and in the costume design by Paloma Young. The lighting designed by Jeff Croiter also plays an important role in setting the atmosphere.

The script contains lots of humor (though for adults, not kids) and gives Sanders, who already was shining amidst the starstuff with his physical comedy, a chance to bring down the house with a scene that answers the question about how Captain Hook loses his hand (though people not comfortable with taking God’s name in vain might not find it amusing). Sanders also received a round of applause for an ad lib about a fire alarm that forced an evacuation of the Bushnell shortly after the show began Tuesday night. (Haze and smoke effects form the show set it off, according to Paul Marte, communications manager at The Bushnell. Unfortunately a lot of people on their way out of the building were talking about not understanding the plot and left. The house, already fairly small, shrunk after intermission as well).

The script also can be dark (not recommended for little ones, despite the Peter Pan theme) and very insightful:

“It’s supposed to hurt,” Molly tells us. “That’s how you know it meant something.”

It’s just a little on the long side clocking in at about two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission. And it takes some brain power to follow the plot and some knowledge of the Peter Pan story to get the references. Surprisingly, some audience members admitted they had no familiarity with Peter Pan. Their questions about why Mrs. Bumbrake is played by a man were left answered, however, since there seems to be no real reason, especially in a play (like most these days) where a another female actor amidst the testosterone would be welcome.

Peter and the Starcatcher sprinkles starstuff at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Feb. 23. Performances are Through Feb. 23: Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm; Sundays 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $26-$76: 860-987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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