Peter and the Starcatcher


This is a video game blog, but it would be silly of me to pretend there aren't other art forms worth exploring, or other passions in my life that are tremendously important to me.  So today, I'm going to look at a play that I saw late last week.

Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher (the book) was published in 2006 and adapted for the stage in 2009.  It opened to much fanfare, winning five Tony awards.  It was also nominated for Best Play.  It now appears off-Broadway, at the eminently likable New World Stages, alongside Avenue Q and the Gazillion Bubbles show, among others.  It is billed as an "adult prequel" to Peter Pan, and ostensibly tells the story of how Peter and Captain Hook came to be in Neverland.

I entered the theater to see a dark, drab set with ropes hanging in the back, boxes stacked, dirty floor, dark lanterns.  And that's about where the seriousness of the show ends.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a play, in the very literal sense of the word.  As someone who has spent the past four years of his life studying and observing theater taught in the style of Meisner, and this entire past Summer watching people younger than myself learn about the principals of realistic acting crafting, it was with some difficulty that I came to accept a form of acting that is not based on realistic truth.  In Peter and the Starcatcher, the actors are showing and telling.  They are not just actors; they are storytellers.

In Peter and the Starcatcher, the fourth wall between the audience and the performers is ill-defined, if it exists at all, and it is from this understood relationship with the characters that the audience derives much of its pleasure.  As Molly, the only female character in the play, sneaks through a ship, opening up doors and discovering the wonders and terrors behind them, she speaks to the audience and invites them in with her.  As the audience, we are there with her, and there with all of the characters, for the ride.

This taught me something very important about acting, and this is perhaps the most important thing I can take away from my experience with peter and the Starcatcher.  An acting regimen that focuses entirely on one school or method of acting is insufficient training.  Meisner would not prepare you fully for work in this show, nor would many of the techniques taught by conservatories.  I feel as though in my time at Rutgers, I met a fair number of actors who has lost the fun that makes Peter and the Starcatcher possible.

Molly is, of course, the female companion to Peter throughout the show, and acts as a level headed foil to his shenanigans.  Whereas Peter is an orphan (originally with no name) who was sold into slavery and brought on the ship the Neverland, Molly was brought on board as protection while her father, a wealthy and important member of the British Navy, transfers some star dust on another ship.  Mishaps happen, ships crash, and Molly, her father, Peter, and both ships' crews become stranded on an island, where they meet cannibals and cross-dressing mermaids and crocodiles hungry for a hand.  Even at its most serious, peter and the Starcatcher is all good fun.

For all this talk of fun, I must admit that I am deriving some of my understanding of the shows quality from its initial critical praise and from the script.  I normally am not offended or upset by seeing understudies (of which there were four), but the cast I saw performing this past Sunday were not at the top of their game.  The script is filled with whimsy and exuberance, and there are moments where only unbridled energy and belief in the moment would allow the performers to pull it off.  Although during my time with Peter and the Starcatcher this was largely the case, there were moments and scenes that felt a little like watching a high school production, just in the awkwardness of seeing an actor say or do something that seems uncomfortable for them.  If a character yells something while pumping his fist into the air, he'd better believe it, or else I sure as hell won't. 

Having said that, this is a very good show.  The script, as written, is very faithful to the book, which I enjoyed when I was in late high school.  The music that has been added to the show (which is really a semi-musical) is fun, although occasionally unnecessary.  For any of my complaints about the performers, they still managed to bring a saccharine tear from my eye at the show's bittersweet conclusion.

The set and props are intentionally low-budget, and this is an aspect of the show I didn't understand.  The ship set, although it isn't especially complex, is high-quality and gorgeously rendered.  To have that accompanied by people holding ropes for doorways, a scarf as an angry cat, and other seemingly hand-made props was a little strange.  There was a part of me that wanted to say, look, I know this show isn't low-budget.  The illusion that the show was being put on by a bunch of people who just decided to tell this story last minute was half-formed, if that was their intention.  If not, I'm not sure the lack of proper set and props benefitted the show in any way, with the exception of the sight gag of a man struggling with a scarf.

Although I had mixed feelings during the first half of the show, the second half allowed me to shrug off those qualms and enjoy Peter and the Starcatcher for what it is - fun.  It's simply a storytelling workshop with a big budget; it is, at its best, a bunch of friends putting on a show with an inexplicably elaborate backdrop but no property budget.

Peter and the Starcatcher is worth seeing.

Come back Monday night (hopefully) for some more video game stuff.