“When I was a boy I wished I could fly. Out the window and over the trees….then loop the loop and up to the stars. Eventually of course, we dream other dreams. We change. We grow up. It always happens. Nothing is forever. That’s the rule. Everything ends. And so our story begins…”
Lisa and I had the thrill of catching Peter and the Starcatcher at the Brooks Atkinson theater the day it closed (we braved the cold to put our names in the ticket lottery–without success–but yay for lottery loser tickets!) Other than that the plot has something to do with Peter Pan and that the show has received rave reviews and not a few Tonys, we had no idea what to expect. Would it be a homage? A play? A musical?
As it turns out, it’s a bit of everything.
Better yet, it’s a play for children and adults in touch with their inner child. While the dialogue and the jokes zip along faster than the Wasp (commandeered by pirates, of course) in hot pursuit of the S.S. Neverland, the set and “special effects” are magically low-tech. At the start of the show, we are asked to imagine “a grown cat in flight”, but it’s not long before our imaginations are rewarded by an ordinary length of rope that morphs into a tiny cabin porthole, narrow passageways, flapping saloon doors, whatever the scene calls for, really. It was like playing pretend and having only the stuff in your garage to make your creativity soar.
The cast was flawless as well, playing their roles with panache and then melding back into the company (a precisely, synchronous unit) to bulk out two very different crews, a gang of pirates, a jungle tribe, and transformed mermaids. (Did we mention there’s only one female in the whole cast? Those mermaids, not a pretty sight.) Still, standouts include Molly, an intelligent, competitive Starcatcher-in-training who befriends three orphan boys, Mrs. Bumbrake, her fussy but neglectful nanny (played by a man, a la British pantomime), and the comic duo of Black Stache and Smee.
Like the best children’s books, this play (which is based on the book Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) speaks to adults and kids on different levels. We were struck by the melancholy take on the Peter Pan theme–of those who grow up and the ones who don’t–especially because we’d just reread Code Name Verity, where Peter Pan has a role to play as well.
Even as the last pieces of what will become the Peter Pan mythology fall into place, the ending is bittersweet. After an adventurous, transformative journey of self-discovery and identity (literally, Peter doesn’t even get a name until the end of Act 1!), it’s the adults who determine Peter and Molly’s futures in the end. And though it’s not what they’d choose, it’s one they must and do accept, whereas I wanted their story to continue straight on till morning. But we were warned: Everything ends. New stories begin.