Origin stories have been having their moment in the spotlight in recent years, and the Citadel Theatre’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice proves the cinema isn’t the only place one can enjoy an origin story of a popular character.
Based on a novel of a similar name, Peter and the Starcatcher is the origin story of many of the characters in J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. In it, we learn how Peter learned to fly, how Captain Hook lost his hand, how the lost boys stay boys, and how mermaids were created. Peter and the Starcatcher plays on the MacLab Stage at the Citadel Theatre until April 23.
I can only describe Peter and the Starcatcher as whimsical and imaginative. Everything about the production grips your imagination and has you feeling a sense of childlike wonder, whether you are one or not – the play is equally for children and adults.
One of the main drivers of that whimsy is the ensemble’s total commitment to their characters and their story. The twelve actors each have a main character they play, but throughout the play’s 2 1/2 hours, also transform into a dizzying array of narrators, pirates, mermaids, island inhabitants and other creatures. In some productions, you can get the sense that the actors aren’t as invested in their characters as they could be, but the opposite is true in Peter in the Starcatcher – the absolute, total commitment to each character is more than apparent. Each of the actors fully, unabashedly bares the heart of their character.
The team is absolutely a crack cast of local actors that will probably have you wanting to see the show just for the cast alone: Clinton Carew, Oscar Derkx, Peter Fernandes, Richard Lee Hsi, Doug Mertz, Glenn Nelson, Ryan Parker, Andrea Rankin, Garrett Ross, Farren Timoteo, Stephanie Wolfe, and Morgan Yamada.
Farren Timoteo as Black Stache stole the show for me, with his over-the-top, narcissistic character pushing every scene further than you would imagine (and being the main source of a lot of the adult jokes that will fly over kids’ heads). Farren makes playing Black Stache look like the most fun job in the world, where you can just let every outlandish, over-the-top, DGAF thought that crosses your mind express itself. Peter Fernandes as Smee was the perfect sidekick to the show-stopping Black Stache, playfully going along with Black Stache’s narcissistic whims while being just smart enough to stay ahead of him.
Oscar Derkx was perhaps the most sympathetic character, playing Peter who spent most of his fourteen years in a brutal orphanage. While the other characters in the play do evolve throughout the play into the characters they are in Peter and Wendy, this really is Peter’s origin story as he grows from an abused orphan into someone whose distrust and hate for adults leads him to make decisions that lead to him never growing up, forming the basis of subsequent stories.
Doug Mertz as Lord Aster was the ultimate Dad – warm, steady, protective and nurturing. As his daughter, Molly Aster, Andrea Rankin does a good job of bringing an adventurous and confident 13-year-old to the stage – walking the fine line between childishness and the confusion of being a teenager. However, I think Rick Elice’s script did a disservice to this character – my main point of contention with the play.
For having been written and premièred within the last decade, I don’t understand why Rick Elice chose to have the other characters in this story prize Molly’s femininity and caring, over her clear mental and physical strength, but I found it to be sexist and damaging to a young female audience – nevermind making me constantly cringe. The character of Molly has a chance to be a strong role model to young girls of an adventurous and capable female who makes an impact on a lonely group of people because she cares. The way the script is written prizes her traits of femininity and genuine care, over her physical and mental competence, turning her into a proxy for a mother, despite being the same age as the Lost Boys. Even to the point where the boys call her ‘mother’. It’s entirely possible for a female character to be a hero and care about people, without having them reference her as a mother figure, and I wish Peter and the Starcatcher had recognized that one can be female, caring, and a hero all at the same time, each being a distinct and equally important trait. Given that this was written into the script though, I’m not sure how much the local team could have done to work around it, and I tried to separate the rest of the production from my feelings on how the character of Molly was written.
Director James MacDonald and Choreographer Tracey Power make full use of the MacLab’s playing space in a way that’s totally immersive and engaging. The way the space is used to engage the audience and have you looking around the theatre for where the next character or effect will come from is delightful. The non-stage space is used not just entrances and exits along the aisles, but major portions of scenes being played from the aisles, nevermind the actor’s engagement with audience members as they filter to their seats prior to the show. The use of the MacLab is reminiscent of the way the Freewill Players Shakespeare Festival uses the entire space of the Hawrelak Amphitheatre. There are no two ways about it – Peter and the Starcatcher wouldn’t have the same audience engagement if it was staged in any other theatre.
As usual, Megan Koshka’s set, prop, costume design complemented the heart of the play, enabling the actors to carry away the audience into such an imaginative production. I’ve loved the set of Peter and the Starcatcher since I saw it on Instagram a few weeks ago. The giant compass in the middle of the stage perfectly matches the nautical setting of most of the play, in addition to looking rich and gorgeous. Megan’s props were simple – ropes, umbrellas, pallets, fishing rods to help simulate flying objects – inspiring audiences to use their imagination, and reminding that if you look at anything in the right context, it can transform into whatever you need it to be in that moment. And what Megan captures in her design – transformation, child-like wonder, and play – is really what Peter and the Starcatcher is about.