Monday, April 16, 2012

Peter and the Starcatcher: Pocket Full of Whimsy

Sometimes a show comes along that warms the cockles of your heart, makes you laugh, and brightens your day.  For a lot of people that show is Peter and the Starcatcher.  But alas not for me.  I was worried that this show was going to be a little too full of whimsy for my liking and it was.  I was choking on a giant dosage of saccharine joy and mirth and, unlike the old expression, a spoonful of sugar did not help the medicine go down for me. 

Peter and the Starcatcher is a sincere production directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and an adaptation (by Rick Elice) of a children's book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  A young, nameless orphan, Boy (Adam Chanler-Berat) and his friends Prentiss and Ted (Carson Elrod and David Rossmer) are shipped out on the boat the Neverland to be sold into servitude to an island King.  Also on board the Neverland is haughty, precocious young Molly (Celia Keenan-Bolger) who explores the ship, discovers the boys, and uncovers a secret about certain cargo on board.  Pirates, led by Black Stache (Christian Borle) seize Molly's father's ship and chase down the Neverland to capture this secret treasure. If you haven't quite guess it yet, this is the Peter Pan creation story. 

As creation myths go, this one did not resonate with me.  Having seen the National Theatre of Scotland's excellent production of Peter Pan (directed by John Tiffany of Once and Black Watch fame) where they attempt to connect the Peter Pan story to historic issues of the day I feel like I have already experienced a powerful and moving attempt to tell this story.  Of course that production was incredibly dark (issues of repressed sexual desire, abusive child labor) and as many of you know I love dark material.

Peter and the Starcatcher attempts to be cute, funny and a little dark...but it was just trying too hard for me.  Everyone in the cast was having fun and trying to make people laugh.  They were largely successful in their efforts...with everyone else.  I laughed a total of two times.  Two hours into the show there was a joke about cynicism and I laughed--no one else did.  And there was a Philip Glass melody joke.  I laughed then too.  The comedy felt forced and obvious (Oh Mildly Bitter what isn't funny about men dressed as mermaids or fart jokes?).  Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy it-- well everyone, except me and a nine year old boy in the row in front of me.  He seemed confused as he kept looking at his parents who were snorting with laughter. Don't worry kiddo.  You are not alone.  Sometimes it feels that way, but it is not true.

I was touched by the sweet, romantic storyline between Boy and Molly but it constantly took a back seat to the sophomoric humor.

The production is creatively designed. Rather than substantial set pieces, the directors chose to use the actors to carve out and define certain spaces.  I particularly liked the hall of doors made up of the cast members.  The design scheme seems as if it springs from a child's imagination or at least a child's imagination rendered in water color illustrations in a children's book.

There is no question the majority of the world will find this show a lovely diversion. The show's merits are many: a performance with gusto by Christian Borle, a funny turn by Teddy Bergman, a sweet and tender story about love, family and unexpected destinies, inventive direction that taps into the creative imagination of children. But in the end I just found it too juvenile and too childish for me.  And worst of all, I just did not find it funny.

I imagine this is a sign that my inner child is officially dead. 

1 comment:

  1. OMG, it's like you wrote my review of this show for me, only much better. I saw this off-Broadway at NYTW and will not be putting myself through it again.