By Rick Elise
Peter and the Starcatcher provides a humorous and fantastical backstory for the beloved character of Peter Pan and his arch-nemesis Captain Hook. In this wickedly imaginative play, we meet a poor orphaned child on the high seas simply called Boy because, in the absence of a mother and a father, he was never given a name. His sad and lonely world is turned upside down when he meets Molly. The daughter of famous Starcatcher Lord Astor, our heroine is on a mission to save the world and protect a treasure trunk filled with magical star stuff from getting into the hands of evil and greedy pirate Black Stache. As they travel aboard the Neverland ship headed for a faraway land, Molly and Boy learn about love, friendship and forge an unbreakable bond.
Starstuff: a magical and powerful dust from the stars. In this world, Starcatchers must keep starstuff out of the wrong hands.
At a British dock in the year 1885, Starcatchers Lord Aster and his daughter Molly board two ships: Lord Aster on The Wasp with a trunk full of starstuff; and Molly on The Neverland with a decoy. Aboard The Neverland, Molly encounters three orphans: Ted, Prentiss, and a quiet boy with no name.
Meanwhile, Lord Aster’s ship has been taken over by the nefarious Black Stache and his gang of pirates. They hold Lord Aster captive and demand he open the trunk. The pirates manage to open it, only to discover that it is full of sand. They realize that the real trunk must be aboard The Neverland. Lord Aster uses his magical amulet to warn Molly of the approaching ship. She promises to bring the trunk of real starstuff to him as soon as the pirates catch up with them.
After a wild chase, the two ships collide, and mayhem begins. Lightning strikes The Neverland, causing it to split in two. The captain of the ship, Slank, is pushed into the water, and Black Stache goes to find the trunk.
Once Black Stache finds the trunk, along with the boy who is sitting on top of it, he attempts to convince the boy to hand it over by giving him the name Peter. Peter refuses and Black Stache throws him overboard. Molly has kept her promise and has the real trunk aboard The Wasp, but seeing Peter in need of help, she throws the trunk into the water so he can use it to float to a nearby island. Peter, Ted, Prentiss, and Molly all make it to the island, just narrowly escaping being sacrificed to the crocodile, Mister Grin, by the Mollusks. They resolve to get the trunk back aboard The Wasp, but Peter gets lost and meets a mermaid who gives him the surname Pan.
Once Peter Pan meets back up with Molly and the boys, they get the trunk to the beach and are about to take it to The Wasp when Black Stache ambushes them. They fight well, but Black Stache captures Molly and requires the trunk for her life. Peter decides Molly is more important than the starstuff and hands over the trunk, but the pirates open it only to discover it is empty. Lord Aster arrives on the island and helps everyone understand what happened to the starstuff. Molly accepts the reality of dealing with magic, and Peter’s world changes forever.
Shipwrecks, revenge, bravery, and the quest to find oneself: these are a few of the elements and themes that are prevalent throughout Shakespeare’s works. We only need to look as far as this season at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival to see examples of this—Hamlet is a classic tale of revenge that ponders identity and responsibility, Twelfth Night opens with a shipwreck and features many characters who seek to find themselves. The summer’s third offering, Peter and the Starcatcher, contains many of these Shakespearean elements, and like Shakespeare’s romances and adventures, Peter and the Starcatcher helps us to retain – or perhaps remember – our childlike wonder.
Based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers, written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, this swashbuckling adventure by Rick Elice becomes a prequel to J.M. Barrie classic story of Peter Pan and features pirates, a tempest, a shipwreck, and most importantly: an orphan boy in search of himself and family. Set in 1885, the story reimagines the period when the much-loved Queen Victoria reigned over Great Britain, and explorers carried her influence afar. Sailors could find themselves quite busy with trade, England was expanding its territories overseas, and young boys and girls were expected to be quiet, well-mannered, and obedient towards adults. The story follows the characters as they head from the docks of Portsmouth, England, and over the stormy ocean waves to the mysterious island of Rundoon, where the lives of a few lost orphans change forever and a hungry crocodile looks for his next snack.
The original genesis of the Peter Pan story had a lonelier origin. In the original story from Barrie’s The Little White Bird, Peter escapes his nursey at one week old by flying out of his window to Kensington Gardens. He forgets how to be a human and even gets trapped on an island and forgets how to fly. He meets Solomon who teaches him how to be “betwixt-and-between” a boy and a bird. Peter becomes friends with Solomon, and with his and the birds’ help, he makes a boat to go back and forth to Kensington Gardens. After befriending the fairies, he becomes friends with the queen fairy. He asks for two small wishes. His first is to fly to see his mother and maybe stay with her if he wants to. His second wish is to stay with her forever. But Peter takes too long saying his goodbyes, and she bars the windows by the time he comes back. This ignites Peter’s distrust and distaste towards adults, mothers in particular.
Barrie then wrote the next introduction to Peter in Peter in Kensington Gardens. This novella included the chapters about Peter from his previous work as well as illustrations by Arthur Rackham. He also made edits to transform it into a children’s book from its more adult-oriented predecessor.
The more famous of Barrie’s works, and the one which has had the most lasting influence, was The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, the adaptation of Pan as inspired by Barrie’s relationship and adventures with the Llewelyn Davies boys. The play is more adventure-based than the earlier prose works, and does not focus on the story behind Peter Pan but on the adventures he has in Neverland with the Darlings and Lost Boys. In later versions, the play ends with When Wendy Grew Up: An Afterthought, which gave way to the tradition of Peter coming to the Darling’s house every spring cleaning (when he could remember) and taking the succession of Wendy’s descendants to Neverland for a week to be his mother. The play evolved into the novelized version, Peter and Wendy, giving more background on the Darlings in a more narrative and less action-based form.
And then along came Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
Barry and Pearson first wrote the book Peter and the Starcatchers for Pearson’s daughter, who wanted to know how Peter met Captain Hook. That first novel turned into a successful series of four novels. Tom Schumaker, a producer for Disney Theatricals, read the book and thought it would work well in story theatre style – with actors not just assuming the roles of the characters, but as storytellers. He approached Roger Rees who had worked on Nicholas Nickleby to see if he would be interested in the project. The team launched its premiere in February of 2009 at La Jolla Playhouse, co-directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. Its Off-Broadway opening came two years later, in February of 2011 at the New York Theatre Workshop, with the Broadway opening following a year later, taking home five Tony Awards and an assemblage of other honors.
While you may not hear “Wherefore art thou, Peter Pan?” the use of heightened language makes Elice’s play a fitting choice for a Shakespeare festival. Shakespeare was a wordsmith and his unique uses of language made his plays relatable to audiences of all educational backgrounds and classes. Just as you can find a bawdy joke cleverly hidden in a Shakespearean work, Elice weaves words to appease a greater audience. Although Peter and the Starcatcher appeals to young audiences, there are jokes for all ages (yes, even cleverly disguised bawdy ones).
|Molly Aster||Eva Balistrieri|
|Black Stache||Chris Amos*|
|Mrs. Bumbrake/Teacher||Johnathan Gillard Daly*|
|Alf||Jonah D. Winston|
|Slank/Hawking Clam||Mark Tyler Miller|
|Prentiss||Robert R. Doyle|
|Grempkin/Mack/Sanchez/Fighting Prawn||Ben Muller|
|Lord Leonard Aster||Thomas Anthony Quinn*|
|Captain Scott||Mark Corkins*|
|Laura Bouxsein||US Slank/Hawking Clam|
|Robert Hunter Bry||US Black Stache/Captain Scott|
|Olivia Candocia||US Molly|
|Forrest Loeffler||US Lord Astor/Mrs. Bumbrake|
|Carlos Medina Maldonado||US Ted/Alf|
|Alex Levy||US Boy/Smee|
* = denotes member of Actor's Equity Association
- The Pantagraph