Did you ever in an idle moment wonder how Peter Pan became Peter Pan or how Captain Hook became Captain Hook? The answer to such momentous concepts were developed in a children’s novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the book providing backstory for the character Peter Pan, and serving as a prequel to J. M. Barrie's novel Peter and Wendy. Adapted to the stage by Rick Elice, it ran on Broadway for a year-and-a-half. There have recently been many regional theater productions and it now appears in New Milford at Theatreworks for three weekends.
Unlike the Barrie play version, which is beloved by both children and adults for its witty silliness, Peter and the Starcatcher is just for adults, due to its advanced sexual humor and esoteric contemporary throwaway lines (“This plot is as difficult to understand as listening for a melody in a Phillip Glass opera.” But the plot is hardly difficult to understand amid amusing slapstick, buffoonery, and camp humor.
As in the Barrie play, Captain Hook is the protagonist with all the good lines and bad puns. I was surprised and pleased to note that the play retains adroit and silly references to Homer’s Odyssey (as in Barrie’s work). In Barrie, Peter provides a gentle satire on Odysseus, and Tinker Bell a sprightly satire on the role of Athena in the Odyssey. Elice’s play presents Peter as incapable of swimming (as opposed the champion swimmer Odysseus). Odysseus is rescued from drowning by Ino in the Greek epic near a beach, yet rescued in the sacred Homeric grotto by a mermaid drag queen whose costume resembles actress Mae West (as the goddess Athena).
As Black Stache, the previous incarnation of Captain Hook, young Matt Austin delivers an electrifying performance that remains sheer delight. There are solid supporting cast performances by Steve Stott as Smee and Alexis Verurnazos , as Fighting Prawn in the Second Act. As Molly Aster, Abbey Lynch is good with diction and voice modulation, yet might project more emotion. Bruce Tredwell as the drag queen English nurse of Molly supplies an hilarious performance that gets your belly convulsing. Michael Wright as Slank and Hawking Clam is forceful within his small role. Alicia Dempster’s direction permits too much shouting by Peter and the Lost Boys—which diminishes nuance, emotional tenor, and crisp diction. Italian cuisine becomes a marble floor of linguistic clowning.
The First Act scenario belabors the setting somewhat, while the Second Act flourishes with pell-mell zaniness that is often adorned with silly word play. The opening mermaid song of the second act is a show-stopper of gleeful wit that might have provided more leg movement. The one-set set construction by Jim Hipp is flawlessly wonderful. Peter and the Starcatcher offers a vehicle for directors and actors to ham-it-up in a variety of ways. Ultimately, the real reason to see this particular production is to catch Matt Austin—perhaps a future star—cantering through his brazen, Braggadocio, villainous role in deliciously top form.