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Peter and The Starcatcher

Peter-Starcatcher-Buffalo-NY-4THE BASICS:  This is Rick Felice’s play version of a popular novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  It’s a prequel to James Barrie’s PETER PAN, giving us the back stories for Peter, Captain Hook, The Lost Boys, Tinkerbell, etc.  Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell has directed the Shaw Festival production, which runs in repertory at the Royal Geoge Theatre through November 1st.  The play, with its single intermission, runs approximately two hours and forty minutes.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  This plot-heavy tale of adventure on the high seas concerns Lord Aster’s secret mission to dispose of a trunk of magical stardust for Queen Victoria.  There are a whole myriad of characters—loyal British subjects (like Aster and his plucky 13 year old daughter, Molly), seamen of various stripes (including cutthroat pirates like infamous Black Stache), Peter-Starcatcher-Buffalo-NY-3wacky mermaids, impressed orphans, and some strangely Italian “savages”.  The show also features multiple sailing ships, a pair of indentical looking trunks (only one of which houses treasure), a near-drowning, a mysterious island, chases and abductions, and a whole lot of derring-do.  So how could it be less than terrific, you ask?  Keep reading.

THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION:   The word “magical” comes up again and again in the publicity for this production, so let’s set things straight right away—PETER AND THE STARCATCHER does not conjure any true stage magic.  There is impressive stagecraft, for sure—nifty lighting effects and clever uses for simple props like ropes.  But stagecraft is only the means to an end.  Playwright Felice seems to want to take us on a magic carpet ride of sorts, but he has encrusted his script, start to finish, with cheeky modern references and bad jokes that repeatedly break the spell.  These, plus additional, scatological references (squid poop, smelly fart jokes) pull us right down, on our butts, to the hard floor of our own, mundane, Peter-Starcatcher-Buffalo-NY-2decidedly unmagical lives.  The two styles/goals cannot coexist successfully, either in this play or anywhere else.  And that is why this PETER is ultimately such a big disappointment.

There are things to like about the production, especially technically.  A fine little ensemble has been assembled to put over the show’s occasional, sometimes catchy songs.  One number, “Star Stuff Made a Mermaid Out of Me”, which begins Act II, is an absolute howl—a bit of colorful vaudeville that appears out of nowhere, and is in another whole world from the play as a whole.

Petite Kate Besworth makes a superb Molly—smart, plucky, vulnerable, real.  Patrick Galligan’s Lord Aster makes an affable Rule-Brittania-type Victorian, and Martin Happer brings sly humor to the villainous  Black Stache.  Would that Charlie Gallant’s Boy/Peter could provide some needed magnetism, particularly at the end.  Working on the (wrongheaded) assumption that acting chops can trump actors’ physical attributes, we are given Good-Sized Lost Boys, one of them way too tall.  Surely the mighty Shaw could have found a few shrimpy male actors!

IN SUM:  Good intentions, but the play is a stylistic mess.  And the plot is way too complicated.  The long (90 min), muddy first act is a real slog.  But, because Ms. Besworth’s charming Molly is worth a half-buffalo on its own, I feel is must award this problematic show

Three-Buffalo

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

 

Written by Grant Golden

Grant Golden

GRANT GOLDEN wears a number of hats. He has been practicing radiology in Buffalo since 1981, for the past 15 years, with Seton Imaging. Dr Laszlo Tabar, internationally famous mammographer, has been his special friend and mentor.

Grant began The Old Chestnut Film Society, Buffalo’s only film society, in 1983. Now in its 35th consecutive season, the OCFS does monthly screenings of Hollywood classics in 16mm.

He has written the scores (and some of the books) for a number of locally produced musicals, including the old WONDERMAKERS shows, THE OTHER ISLAND, NOBODY’S INN (Alleyway Theatre), IZZY! (Musicalfare), and ME II (Western Door Playhouse). He reviewed local plays on the radio for 20 years--on WBEN and WBFO—before making the switch to BuffaloRising.

Grant and his lovely wife Deborah live in Central Park with their dog Ginger, and cats Ella and Felix. They have three adult children, and now, happily, two grandchildren!

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