Theater Review: Live Arts’ Peter and the Starcatcher hits the spot

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Steadily led by stellar comedic talent, the whirlwind three-hour trip to the land of Rundoon smoothly navigates the topsy-turvy plot of Peter and the Starcatcher. Photo by Martyn Kyle Steadily led by stellar comedic talent, the whirlwind three-hour trip to the land of Rundoon smoothly navigates the topsy-turvy plot of Peter and the Starcatcher. Photo by Martyn Kyle

In a new book due out in August, In Search of Stardust: Amazing Micro-Meteorites and Their Terrestrial Imposters, Norwegian musician and amateur scientist Jon Larsen explains how it’s possible for anyone with a microscope to find cosmic debris. He estimates that more than 100 metric tons of alien objects hit our planet every day—and thanks to some invaluable advice gleaned from Larsen’s years of dedication draining the dreck of gutters and other unsavory places, we can now all discover previously hidden stardust for ourselves, right where we live.

Perhaps this scientific breakthrough may dim a touch of the mystical shimmer we ascribe to the elusive twinkling across the night sky, but it also teaches a valuable lesson: You don’t always have to go far to find amazing things.

Take Live Arts. Located in our own proverbial backyard, the nonprofit theater mainstay opened its latest production, Peter and the Starcatcher, on March 10 with an energetic, frantic arrival deserving of discovery and appreciation. Steadily led by stellar comedic talent, the whirlwind two-and-a-half-hour trip to the land of Rundoon smoothly navigates the topsy-turvy plot of the 2009 Peter Pan prequel. With a family-friendly vibe, director Bree Luck presents an over-the-top mix of sharp one-liners, snarky asides, vaudeville musical bits and drag show aesthetics.

Highlighting opening night, understudy Camden Luck was wholly believable as cutesy, precocious starcatcher Molly Aster, a girl on a mission who never lapses in her purposefully too-proper English accent. Photo by Martyn Kyle
Mila Cesaretti as precocious starcatcher Molly Aster (she shares the role with Camden Luck) and Carter Mace as Peter. Photo by Martyn Kyle

 

There’s a lot happening in this play. Here’s the gist: A magical British father-daughter team are sent on a secret mission by Queen Victoria to save the world from tyranny by collecting “starstuff,” navigating rough seas, captivity, charismatic pirates and a short-tempered tribe of English-deported Italians. Oh, and an orphan who becomes Peter Pan.

Of course there’s much more to it than that, including coming-of-age themes, feminist perspectives, questions of leadership, the fluidity of language, meta-theatrical moments of third-person self-narration and many swift anachronistic jumps out of its late-19th-century setting to cultural references from the last 50 years (Michael Jackson, Ayn Rand). Yet, these grad school critical approaches obscure the point of the show: having a good time with a fantastical, swashbuckling adventure story.

“Sometimes pieces of them fall to Earth—little bits that look like sand. Can you keep a secret?” Molly Aster

Highlighting opening night, Camden Luck, who shares the role with Mila Cesaretti, was wholly believable as cutesy, precocious starcatcher Molly Aster, a girl on a mission who never lapses in her purposefully too-proper English accent. Carter Mace, the boy who becomes Peter, aptly took on his role with the tentative self-doubt of an adolescent, buttressed by amusing fellow orphans Elliot Rossman as Prentiss and Alex Ramirez as the ever-hungry Ted.

Other noteworthy performances include Aaron Richardson’s commendable dual-persona work as cheeky Mrs. Bumbrake and a mermaid named Teacher, and Scott Dittman’s portrayal as raunchy buccaneer yes-man Smee.

Peter and the Starcatcher
Runs through March 26
Live Arts

But, without question, the two morally bankrupt captains steal the show, run away with it and then resell it back to the crowd at a sizable profit. Mark McLane’s Blackstache and Amalia Oswald’s Bill Slank carried the night with expert comic bombast. Lustfully hogging the spotlight in this early iteration of Hook, McLane’s enchanting Norma Desmond-level egomania enchants with a penchant for malapropisms and a keen hatred of children; his villainy is ultimately so inviting that it makes him the play’s most lovable character. And though his slick evil foppery is unequaled, Oswald’s incomparable slapstick prowess and impossibly wide-mouthed howls from the poop deck heights of Neverland are beyond absurd in the best way possible.

The ship-shaped stage is a striking piece of scenery made all the more remarkable as the versatile cast admirably plays up the show’s bare-bones “special effects”: cats and birds fly with string, sea battles are re-enacted with toy models, and monstrous beasts are merely hinted at with cutouts of sharp-toothed triangles. The actors make it disarmingly easy to suspend belief with some well-placed rope: A boxing ring and the threatening waves of the open sea spring up and redefine the space in seconds. This visual kick underscores the text’s message about imagination and the sacrifices of becoming an adult, but offers proof that, as an audience, we’re still ready to dive back into that wide-eyed willingness of childhood.

So maybe it’s just a funny coincidence that Larsen’s monumental space dust findings are becoming known now. Though as Molly and her father speak through their starstuff amulets in Larsen’s native Norwegian tongue it’s worth remembering that the cosmic powder they’re so desperate to protect is, in reality, all around us and continuing to pelt the world on a daily basis. Ultimately, truth often surprises us by revealing itself to be stranger than fiction, but in the case of Live Arts’ Peter and the Starcatcher, fiction is clearly the more entertaining way to spend three hours: yucking it up aboard the Neverland, while being carried safely away from the stench of micro-meteorite specimens oozing out of any drainpipes.

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