The lights dimmed as I took my seat in row C at the SHN Curran Theatre in SF. Looking up, I marvelled at the intricate proscenium arch that was made from bits and pieces of recycled materials they had collected, all painted golden and arranged in nautical patterns. I had been looking forward to watching Peter and the Starcatcher for weeks and wasn’t sure what to expect–what I got was a bit of pure magic that exceeded anything my imagination could have anticipated.
The show started with all the performers rushing on stage, delivering a barrage of lines in a rhythm that was staccato and sharp, yet fluidly seamless at the same time; setting the scene of the opening not through an overly ostentatious set, but through the rich imagery of the text. The audience was introduced to a nameless orphan boy (“Peter” played by Joey deBettencourt) and “Molly” (Megan Stern), the precocious prodigy child of a rich sea captain. Molly and her father are Starcatchers who are using two separate ships to a trunk of invaluable stardust. Soon after departing, “Black Stache” (John Sanders), the leader of a pirate crew, commandeers both ships and holds both Molly and her father hostage demanding that they hand over the magical stardust that is hidden somewhere on board one of the vessels. Suddenly, a storm hits and the ships sink forcing all the crew to swim ashore, consequently freeing the hostages from their floating prison. This was probably one of my favorite scenes in the entire play. The blocking reads more like dance choreography as we watch pirates line up and transform themselves ingeniously into cabin walls, we hear the creaking of strained wood as they lean slowly from side to side imitating a steeply rocking ship. Peter rolls by on a chest, as the boat tilts chased, by Black Stache. It’s perfectly orchestrated chaos that has you holding your breath right along with the characters on stage.
Act two opens with an outlandish charade of crossdressed actors who were once fish but, because they had stardust sprinkled on them, turned into beautiful mermaids. After this fun bit the lights go up and we see Peter alone in a fantastically lit island, rich with an almost paper mache texture and vibrant tropical colors. Peter must protect the stardust from the ever persistent pirate crew. And so, shenanigans ensue which include: a giant crocodile, birds made out of rubber gloves, a pool of stardust, a severed hand, beautiful friendships, and magic with just a dash of heart break. Leaving you satisfied but in a more profound manner than the “Happily Ever After” that is so stereotypically Disney.
Megan Stern was brilliant in her role as “Molly”. Though petite, Stern commanded the stage with a ferocity and precision that far transcended her frame. Her vocal work was rich and strong, her performance specific and dimensional. Joey deBettencourt played a very convincing and dynamic young orphan. His transformation while on the island into “Peter Pan” was a joy to watch. John Sanders held the audience in the palm of his somewhat effeminate pirate hand. His rendition of “Black Stache” (Captain Hook) deviated greatly from the stereotypical pirate portrayal and was delightful, inspired, and refreshing; far more akin to Robert De Niro’s portrayal of a flamboyant “Captain Shakespeare” in Stardust than the violent masculinity of Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean. Another force to be reckoned with was Benjamin Schrader who played a strong willed and absolutely hysterical “Mrs. Bumbrake.”
All in all Peter and the Starcatcher is a magical, thought provoking experience that I would recommend to both preteens and adults alike. This show is a MUST-SEE!
For tickets or details check out the SHN website: