Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review of "Peter and the Star Catcher"

 Almost all the elements of Playhouse on Park’s production of Peter and the Star Catcher work marvelously.  The acting is glorious, the productions values superb, and the direction is inspired and inventive.  The problem is playwright Rick Elice’s adaptation of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson novel, which burdens the show with too much exposition, robbing the play of its fluidity and straightforward narrative.
Miss Sandra Molongo as Smee, Thomas Daniels as Bill Slank, James Patrick Nelson as Lord Leonard Aster, Colleen Welsh as Mrs. Bumbrake, Matthew Quinn as Black Stache, Nicholas Dana Rylands as Cpt Robert Falcon Scott, James Fairchild as Alf.  Photo by Curt Henderson.
The specifics of the story can be somewhat confusing.  Therefore, instead of providing a comprehensive overview of the plot with its various twists and turns, it’s best to share a broader outline of the adventures, giving audience members a dollop of understanding instead of a whole scoop of comprehension.

The story is devised as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s iconic Peter Pan where we learn the origins of The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, Captain Hook, Neverland, and more.  The set-up of the play is imaginative.  We are presented with a group of actors putting on a show for our entertainment.  Props and sets are kept to a minimum and have a more thrown together feel, which is perfectly in line with the intent of the show.  The action shifts from a pirate ship and its rowdy crew to an English royal vessel to a secretive island where hostile natives rule and the mysterious starstuff, a transformative substance, is centered.  At its conclusion, loose ends come together and we are brought, in essence, to the beginning of the timeless story.
Elena Levenson, Natalie Sannes as Molly, Brianna Bagley as Prentiss, Nick Palazzo as Ted, Jared Starkey as Boy/Peter. Photo by Curt Henderson.
The actors work well as an ensemble, taking the guise of numerous characters, while also shining in their singular roles.  Standouts include Matthew Quinn as the self-aggrandizing, mustached pirate, Black Stache.  Quinn is appropriately over-the-top and adds a silly zest to the production.  Natalie Sannes’ Molly is brimming with curiosity and is full of adventure and gusto as she leads Peter and the Lost Boys on their mission. The actress, small in stature, nonetheless, exudes a confidence and zeal, which anchors the show.  Jared Starkey, initially, is quite underwhelming as Boy (Peter Pan), but the character is meant to be unnoteworthy until he finds his purpose and mojo near the play’s conclusion.  The actor convincingly evolves from scared follower to self-confident protector.  Colleen Welsh is gregarious and full of spunk as the nanny Mrs. Brumbake.  She provides a consistent comic touch to the production.

The songs by Wayne Barker provide an extra element of fun.  They are jauntily sung by the cast and, as with the mermaid number at the top of Act II, deliver a dash of merriment for the performers and audience.

Shawn Harris pulls out all the stops coming up with a creative and resourceful vortex of directorial flourishes.  His artistic decisions make the small Playhouse stage come alive as actors frolic with giddiness and enthusiastic purpose as they set sail for adventure.  What he has not been able to negotiate is making the unwieldy script more digestible and attention-grabbing.

Scenic Designer David Lewis, who received the 2018 Connecticut Critics Circle award for The Diary of Anne Frank, has once again fabricated a set that completely meets the needs of the production.  In this instance, whimsy and functionality are melded into a wholly satisfying assemblage.

Peter and the Star Catcher, a show that can be entertaining and exasperating at once.  Playing at Playhouse on Park through October 14th.

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