Review: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at 2nd Star Productions

2nd Star Productions’ over-the-top presentation of Peter and The Starcatcher is a recent addition to the cannon of lore surrounding the first appearance of that ever-young, pre-tween character, Peter Pan, in 1902.

Many of us grew up with Peter Pan – whether it was a Broadway or televised version by Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby, or a cartoon movie figure that enchanted us before the hormones of our teen years moved us away from the imagined childhood bliss of Neverland and the joy or flying with faeries.

The cast of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ helps Peter to fly. Photo by Nathan Bowen.

Peter and The Starcatcher is a play based on the 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson with music by Wayne Barker. This production, staged at the Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park off Crain Highway in Bowie, is directed and costumed by Mary Wakefield, produced by Nathan Bowen, and assistant directed by John Dickson Wakefield, who also portrays Alf – a human.

Jane Wingard designed the set and Joanne Wilson is the stage manager. Mike Martin was the fight choreographer and Garrett Hyde and Walter Kelinfelder handled lighting and sound designs which were executed by lighting and sound technicians Al Chopey and Pete Dursin.

This is an ebullient, buoyant show: the fantasy plot with more twist and turns than a Versailles boxwood labyrinth, frequent wordplays and silly puns had the audience in stitches throughout the evening.

This version of the Peter Pan legend (and, no, I still haven’t forgiven him for his callous ditching of Wendy for her granddaughter at the conclusion of J.M. Barrie’s 1911 novel, Peter and Wendy) takes the audience back into the past to present Peter Pan’s beginnings as a lonely British orphan boy with no name, no past and no potential for a future.

The 2nd Star Production’s cast of a dozen area thespians works together seamlessly to portray, easily, over 100 characters from British seamen and island villagers to lovely mermaids and a crocodile.

Michael Bannigan’s winsome loneliness as the 13-year old orphan boy who becomes Peter is matched by Kelsey Meiklejohn as the 13-year old Molly, who easily has over half the lines in the show, speaks fluent Dodo – a secret language known only to the now extinct birds and a few humans – and uses Norse code (similar to Morse code but developed by Vikings. Everybody knows that!).

The story, set in 1885 during the zenith of the Victorian Era, begins in Great Britain and crosses the seas to a tropical island. The set in the first act is deceptively simple, a foil for every scene. The darkened stage is flanked on either side by tall panels angled like a pair of accordions. In the rear is a blank panel. Save for a barrel set in the left rear of the black stage and a trio of short wooden posts providing a nesting spot for a toy plush cat, there is nothing to suggest the action to come.

When lit, one can see the panels have been painted to resemble dark marble slabs. They shield the entrances and egresses of scenes set in an orphanage, a dock and aboard two vessels the HMS Wasp and the Neverland.

In the second act, the panels remain. But, attached to them are colorful cutouts of giant tropical trees and blossoms, and silhouettes of cliffs or mountain rocks. The panel at the rear is now festooned with an image of a tropical island harbor. In this act, the lighting tends to be bright and sunny – as opposed to the gloom of England or ships’ holds..

Lady Aster (Lord Aster in the Broadway version) is a starcatcher. Portrayed crisply by Jeanne Louise, the officer and single mom, under orders of the Queen, carefully gathers “starstuff”, puts it into containers, sails to a faraway land and drops it down the shaft of an active volcano, Mt. Jalapeno (one of many punny references). This is done to prevent the dust of stars from changing people, places or things. (Try not to notice the name Aster’s resemblance to a star.)

She’s gathered enough starstuff to fill a large trunk. To throw thieves of her trail, a lookalike trunk is loaded with sand.

Lady Aster plans to sail aboard the HMS Wasp to the distant kingdom of Rundoon and her daughter, the precocious Molly will take sail on the Neverland, a slower, older, weatherbeaten  vessel. The Wasp is captained by the veddy British Captain Robert Scott (Gene Valendo).

After Mum has done her job, the two will enjoy a tropical vacation together. Molly isn’t thrilled being separated from her mother.

Elsewhere, three orphans – the boy, Prentiss (Robbie Dinsmore) and Ted (Tyler White) – are rounded up and roughed up by headmaster Grempkin (Brian Binney in the first of three roles) before being sold to the sleazy, sinister captain  Slank (Nicholas Mudd). The boys are told they will be offered as slaves to Rundoon’s king; but Slank suggests they’ll be food for the king’s snakes, instead.

Slank, noticing the two trunks and assuming the one designated for The Wasp has treasure, makes a switch and marks the one loaded with starstuff for his ship.

Lady Aster has provided a companion for Molly, Betty Bumbrake (the tall, lanky, versatile Zach Roth who claims to be 19). The role, as it was written, is intended to be performed by a male actor – and Zach gives it supreme justice. An anonymous member of the ensemble, he becomes Bumbrake by lifting a neckerchief to become a head wrap and tying a long linen apron over his trousers and vest.

This is not the only gender bending in the show. Smee, the first mate to the prose-spouting pirate Black Stache (played with a larger-than-life swagger by Steven Kirkpatrick) is performed by Erin Branigan. And, Lord Aster has been replaced by Lady Aster.

What is remarkable about Mary Wakefield’s direction, and the cast itself, is the overall feeling of camaraderie that exists among the cast. That feeling permeates into the audience.

It is a magical show, full of fun, frivolity, and fantasy, though, I will never look at a line of mermaids the same way again.

2nd Star Productions’ highly entertaining and swashbuckling Peter and the Starcatcher is a Must See show about a tall tale on the high seas. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Peter and the Starcatcher plays through February 25, 2017, at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 Whitemarsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. call (410) 757-5700 or (301) 832-4819, or purchase them online.

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Wendi Winters
Wendi Winters is a writer, reporter, columnist and photographer - and a former NYC public relations executive. A good portion of her career has been in public relations - backed by solid experience in fashion retailing, wholesaling, textiles, marketing, advertising, design and promotion. She owned her own successful fashion public relations/advertising/special events/runway show production firm for seven years. As a journalist, she was the first freelancer to bring a journalism award home to The Capital - and then earned two more awards. Since May 2013, Ms. Winters has been a full time staff member at Capital Gazette Communications. Prior to that, she freelanced for the company for twelve years. Including her three weekly columns, she writes more than 250 articles annually. Her writing byline has appeared in Details Magazine, What's Up? Annapolis Magazine, and numerous others. She's been a feature writer for Associated Press Special Features and for Copley News Service. For years, her fashion critic columns ran in the NYC weeklies Manhattan Spirit and Our Town. Since moving to this area in 1999, as a D.C./Baltimore-area theatre critic, her reviews appeared in Theatre Spotlight and The Review. Plus, she was a Helen Hayes Awards nominator for two terms. Mother of four, she continues to be active as a Girl Scout leader and a regional church youth advisor. You bet she can make a mean S'More!