RWU’s Peter and the Starcatcher Charms Audiences

peterTheater today impresses audiences with the extravagant; the more authentic and intricate, the better. To keep up with television and movies, sets and props have to be so lifelike that willingly suspending disbelief is no chore at all for the audience. In these shows, the work is done for you. Such productions are impressive spectacles, but there is something truly charming about shows that return to the basics, that make both the players and the audience use their imaginations. It’s a return to an older tradition of function over form in theater, in which the emphasis is on the story rather than the visual spectacle. With resourcefulness and creativity, a minimalistic set can paint an entire world before the audience’s eyes.

Such was the case with Roger Williams University’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher. Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher serves as a prequel to Peter Pan, as it relays the story of how a young, unnamed orphan (Constantine Tzouros) becomes Peter Pan as he journeys to an island where he is to be sold to a King. Instead, he helps an apprentice Starcatcher, Molly (Jenna Noell), save a trunk of starstuff (a magical substance that makes people’s wishes come true) from the clutches of the pirate Black Stache (Addison Powers) and his first mate Smee (William Jaworski). Her father, Lord Aster (Allison McPhail) has been appointed by the Queen to destroy the starstuff, but before his voyage to the world’s hottest volcano begins, the trunk with the starstuff is switched with the decoy trunk by the mischievous Captain Slank (Miranda Coker) of Neverland. Peter and Molly receive help along the way courtesy of Peter’s fellow orphans, self-proclaimed leader Prentiss (Mitchell Kiliulis) and food-obsessed Ted (Nick Bergquist). Through acts of bravery and cunning and just a touch of magic, the young protagonists come into themselves and save the day.

Hilarity ensues in the form of Black Stache’s malapropisms and sub-adolescent humor, and the cast delivers these in such a way that an audience full of adults can’t help but delight in even the most groan-inducing puns and idiocy. Many if not all of the cast members play multiple roles and all partake in the narration of the story. The ensemble as a whole functions as a well-oiled machine, with all of its parts knowing where and what they need to be at all times. Full transitions between scenes and characters happen with a flawless fluidity; there is never a lull in the action. Noell’s Molly has all of the indignance of a 13-year-old know-it-all; her performance reminded me of a young Hermione Granger. Tzouros does a brilliant job of balancing the iconically youthful Peter Pan with this unnamed orphan who has been stripped of his identity and who more than anything just wants to be a regular kid for a little while. His rooster crow at the end is a fantastic moment that ties this story to the iconic one we all know and love. Also worthy of note is Powers’ portrayal of Black Stache’s unorthodox (and hilarious) villainy.

What makes this production unique is that rather than creating an elaborate set and lifelike props, the crew made everything out of recycled materials, and rather than being exact replicas, everything was made to suggest something: a bird was represented by two feathers and a stick, for instance. The set was made from a smorgasbord of ropes, planks, toys and simple crafts. What ends up happening is that the audience is forced to harken back to playing as a child, when ordinary objects could become extraordinary things, and adventure was not something to seek but to create. We become a part of Peter’s world by calling upon the experiences of our youth. The cast pulls us in as their playmates and co-imaginers with innovative staging and their larger-than-life presence. As Peter Pan is a story that returns us to our youth however old we may be, so too does Peter and the Starcatcher instill in us that childlike wonder that has made the young orphan who just wanted to be a boy for a while a timeless figure in our hearts.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs Oct. 13, 14 and 15 at 7:30pm at the Performing Arts Center at Roger Williams University. For tickets, call the box office at 401-254-3666. For more information on this and upcoming productions, visit rwu.edu/academics/schools-colleges/fcas/theatre-program/productions

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