A century ago, James M. Barrie created the now-mythic character, Peter Pan, spawning many variations in all media over the years. One recent version is the Tony Award-winning stage play, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a fanciful prequel that imagines how a forlorn orphan becomes the flying hero.
PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production is a wild romp full of vivid characterizations, clever technical tricks and hilarious/awful puns, the energetic staging minimizing the script’s several excesses.
Playwright Rick Elice adapted humor columnist Dave Barry’s young adult novel (co-authored with Ridley Pearson) that tells of a boy who’s sold to a ship’s captain to become a slave for an island king. The teenager becomes embroiled in a battle over a trunk containing mysterious cargo, which pirates want to seize and a British lord and his daughter want to protect. The trunk turns out to be full of “starstuff,” a substance that bestows unlimited power to the user.
The adventurous tale shifts back and forth from seaport to shipboard to island, the transitions accomplished by 13 actors playing nearly 100 parts, employing an astounding number of Holly Poe Durbin’s delightful costumes. McKay Coble’s multilevel walkways and stairs, enhanced by Xavier Pierce’s multihued lighting, help the cinematic effect. Director Brendon Fox masterfully juggles all the comings and goings, the pace rarely letting up.
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Evan Johnson gives Peter (the name eventually given the boy) appropriate aloofness and anger at first, changing to self-reliance and bravado as he helps save Molly, the British lord’s daughter, from the pirates’ clutches. Arielle Yoder makes a most engaging Molly, her confidence and maturity initially irritating to Peter, but later the impetus for inklings of romance.
The star of the show, as usual, is the villain, especially in the hands of Mitchell Jarvis. He invests pirate captain Black Stache (later Captain Hook) with knee-slapping faux-menace, his foppish stances and attempts at sophisticated parlance (resulting in mirthful malapropisms) madly comic but never overdone.
Among the talented other cast members, special mention goes to Benjamin Curns’ rib-tickling Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nanny; Jeffrey Blair Cornell’s rough but kindly Alf, who falls for Mrs. Bumbrake; Brian Owen’s obsequious, oily Smee, Black Stache’s henchman; and Myles Bullock’s witty island king, Fighting Prawn.
The script’s main flaw is trying to do too much, the plotline extremely complicated and often confusing. At two and a half hours, the script becomes tiring, with many segments overplaying a joke or situation. The show’s length, along with numerous double entendres and contemporary references, does not make it ideal for the youngest of children. But those who go along for this deliriously fun ride will come away impressed and entertained.
What: “Peter and the Starcatcher” presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company
Where: Paul Green Theatre, UNC Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24-25, 27-28, Dec. 1-5 and 10-12; 2 p.m. Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 6
Info: 919-962-7529 or playmakersrep.org