Rick Elise’s Peter and the Starcatcher, based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, played to a most appreciative crowd last night at The Kennedy Center. The play tells the story of how Peter Pan became Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. It is a hilarious night at the theater, with wordplay, visual gags, and physical comedy abounding, yet also surprisingly heartfelt and sincere amid the gags and the laughs.
While the plot of Peter and the Starcatcher is from a children’s book the radults and very smart kids will really enjoy the plethora of humorous wordplay and cultural references that go right over the heads of the younger audience members.
Part of what makes Peter and the Starcatcher such an enjoyable evening is how it requires the audience to use their imagination. Directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers outdid themselves. The movement and staging, along with The lighting design and sound design by Jeff Croiter and Darron L. West, is so inventive and clever. They make use of simple props to suggest various different scenes and settings in a way that both helps and forces the audience to buy in to the magic and imagination of the world. A banner of flags becomes the teeth of a crocodile, models of ships show the interactions between the two ships rather than laborious literal ship sets, and lines of actors become walls with individual actors as doors. The whole story is slightly surreal and farcical, and such imaginative staging truly draws the audience in to that world. Donyale Werle’s beautiful set and the costumes designed by Paloma Young, serve as more of a base and suggestion of various different places and characters, which also helps with the surreal feel of the show.
John Sanders steals the show as the villainous, yet insecure pirate “Black Stache,” along with his “Smee” and double act partner, Luke Smith. Sanders’ gift for physical comedy and improvisation had the audience in stitches, especially in the memorable moment where Black Stache loses his hand and finds himself “singlehandedly rendered…singlehanded!” Megan Stern (Molly) and Joey deBettencourt (Boy) also turn in valiant, sincere performances that ground the show. Indeed, the cast as a whole is remarkably cohesive and excellent, both with the drama and the comedy.
One of the highlights of the second act was the opening number, in which the whole cast, dressed as rather eclectic mermaids complete with sequined tails and bikini tops made of various household items (including mustard bottles!), sings about how they became mermaids. It was absolutely side-splitting, and completely re-energized the audience and the cast.
Peter and the Starcatcher will completely draw you in with both its humor and its heart, and prove once again—in a thoroughly delightful way—that there is a child in all of us who never quite grows up.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays through February 16, 2014 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre– 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.