During the opening night of Peter and the Starcatcher, the Kitchen Theatre Company once again proved its ability to transcend the intimate confines of a performance stage and draw the imagination to the most distant and dazzling settings: faraway lands with vibrant, animate characters.
On this particular evening, the audience was invited to imagine 19th-century British sailing ships containing noble statesmen, rugged sailors, sinister pirates and adventurous children, as well as a tropical island complete with its own boisterous inhabitants. Peter and the Starcatcher is based on the novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson, which tells the backstory of Peter Pan and serves as a prequel to Peter and Wendy. Lord Leonard Astor and his daughter, Molly, are starcatchers — a secret group appointed by the queen to protect “starstuff,” a magical, extraterrestrial substance that grants those who touch it their fondest dreams, whether good or evil. Starcatchers must destroy starstuff when it appears on Earth to avoid the havoc that could be created should the magical substance fall into the wrong hands. This forms the basis of the story, as Lord Astor and Molly attempt to protect a trunk of starstuff from being captured by Black Stache, a pirate who will eventually become the well-known Captain Hook. The two starcatchers are helped by Peter, who is a melancholy orphan that Molly meets on a merchant ship. Peter, Molly and Lord Astor are successful in stopping Black Stache from capturing the starstuff, but not before Peter is exposed to it. The story ends with Peter becoming the recognizable version of himself, the boy who cannot grow up, establishing the basis of the original tale.
Every actor in the production played an exemplary part in bringing the fantastic story and characters to life. In the title role of Peter was Matthew Bretschneider, who portrayed the boy with the fervent energy needed to reflect the full range of his exhibited emotions. In one moment, Bretschneider may have the audience enthralled in Peter’s youthful zeal, while in the next scene the viewer may weep with the orphan as he recalls his lonesome and dismal experience in life. Equally impressive was Emily Jackson in the role of Molly. The spirited young girl is as confident in her starcatcher apprenticeship as she is afraid of failure, and Jackson skillfully depicts this childlike innocence. Both Jackson and Bretschneider artfully crafted the competitive and personal relationship that gradually develops between Peter and Molly throughout the story.
Karl Gregory is particularly noteworthy in the role of Black Stache. Gregory possesses a clear and exquisite inclination for dramatic timing, casting a dominating presence in each dialogue in which he engages. Black Stache leads a meager group of pirates, and is a self-described lover of poetry. In the end of the story, he wishes to be Peter’s arch-villain, reasoning that this is an intrinsically poetic theme. Gregory applies his brilliant skill to create a highly cartoonish and humorous version of Black Stache. Regarding comedic value, it is crucial to mention Joey Steinhagen, who, in pantomime dame, portrayed Mrs. Blumbrake, Molly’s nanny and caretaker. Mrs. Blumbrake is prone to speaking in ridiculous, alliterative phrases, and Steinhagen so adeptly interpreted the role that he only needed to recite one line for the audience to erupt in laughter.
Directors Rachel Lampert and Sara Lampert Hoover deserve high praise for the ways in which they staged Peter and the Starcatcher. One remarkable technique was the use of the actors themselves as pieces of the set. For example, while Peter and Wendy lurked around the ship, other actors would converge to form walls, railings or doors to indicate movement. This greatly contributed to the imaginative and fantasy-like feeling of the production. The choreographed dance scene that opened the second act was also praiseworthy. When a group of fish is exposed to the starstuff, they become mermaids, and the audience witnesses their jovial celebration. The scene serves as a brief halt in the main storyline, and brilliant stage direction allows the actors to display their individual talent and physicality that brings the audience to awe and laughter in the process.
Through a refined interpretation on the part of both the company’s actors and directors, Peter and the Starcatcher was brought to life as if it were animated by Disney and not simply limited by the realism of live theater. A clear creative peak in the Kitchen Theatre Company’s 25th season, it is a production absolutely worth seeing.