Thursday, March 10, 2011

A 'Peter' Pan


The cast of Peter and the Starcatcher (photo by Joan Marcus)
Peter and the Starcatcher
A play by Rick Elise
Based on a book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
Starring Adam Chanler-Berat, Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Teddy Bergman, Arnie Burton, Matt D'Amico, Brandon Dirden, Carson Elrod, Kevin Del Aguila, Greg Hildreth, Karl Kenzler, David Rossmer

Performances through April 3, 2011
New York Theater Workshop
79 East 4th Street

Peter and the Starcatcher
is too much of a not-so-good thing. This Peter Pan prequel wants so desperately to please that it ends up like an overly friendly mutt that keeps trying to lick your face after you’ve pushed it away. You want to shout, “Enough!”

The story—young Molly, future mother of Wendy, befriends a pre-flying Peter as they battle the menacing pirate Black Stash, soon to become Captain Hook, and his nasty sidekick Smee—has enough skeleton on which to hang a diverting stage tale, but this version starts petering out in the first act. Even so, it’s dragged out to an exhausting 2-1/2 hours in length, including what seems like no fewer than a dozen false endings.

Instead of a tolerably amusing hour-long one-acter, the creative team goes in the opposite direction, piling on annoying cutesiness like horrible puns, rhymes and scenes of vomiting and farting ad nauseum, even adding tired jokes that reference Sarah Plain, Starbucks and Napoleon’s shortness of stature. Also peppered throughout are with-it terms like “snap,” “yo,” “dope” and even “badass.” I’m amazed that a Twitter or Facebook line wasn’t shoehorned in for good measure.

The game cast of a dozen does what it can in a variety of roles, but Christian Borle (Black Stash) overplays so much, flirting with outright campiness, that he becomes tiresome very quickly. (I must add that the audience didn’t share my view, rolling on the floor laughing and leaping to its collective feet at the end for the requisite standing ovation.)

A few scattered ingenious sight gags include one involving a bird flying around Peter upon reaching Neverland and an amusingly gigantic alligator, but as with so much of Peter and the Starcatcher, a lot less would have gone a very long way. By overstuffing itself with cutesy camp, the play undercuts the very real and poignant story of friendship that’s at its heart—a heart whose beat is difficult to discern under all the overdone clutter.

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