The summer before I started Junior High School—still too young to be left alone all day, apparently—my little brother and I hung out with family friends on days during the work-week. Those friends were heavily involved with a local theater company and that summer their son was playing Michael Darling in the company’s production of Peter Pan. As you can imagine, in the weeks leading up to opening, I spent a lot of time in the theater, watching the production grow and take shape around me.
It was a summer of firsts. My first Junior High School crush—on Jay, the boy playing John, which would linger for easily a decade—and my first backstage experience of theater. Every memory from that summer is amazingly fond, and in consequence, I’ve always had a very special place in my heart for Peter Pan. But nothing, no movie or book or stage production, has ever approximated the magic of that summer the way Peter and the Starcatcher did last week.
Now open at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, this Peter Pan origin tale based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s 2004 children’s book is ultimately less about Peter Pan himself and more about the magic of storytelling and make believe. About the power of imagination, and theater, to bring even the most ordinary items—a rope, a ladder, your neighbor’s bony below—alive before your eyes. Yes, cynical, Manhattan adult person, right before YOUR eyes.
Starcatcher is the theatrical equivalent of the best pillow fort you ever built. Only it’s a lot funnier than you were even capable of fathoming at the age of six. And just a tiiiny bit smarter.
With humor largely aimed at adults—Ayn Rand jokes, y’all! I almost fell out of my seat!—and the perfect amount of slapstick physical comedy woven in, Starcatcher is a crowd pleaser for all ages, neither too juvenile for adults to enjoy, nor too adult for children to follow. In fact, I think I shocked the little boy in front of me with the force of my laughter at some first act fart jokes, but come ON, when are fart jokes not funny? Even to thirty-something women?
Starcatcher’s ensemble cast is universally fantastic, but I fear it’s impossible not to single-out Christian Borle’s performance. His Captain Black Stache—the most fearsome, rubber-limbed pirate that ever sailed—is exceptional. Having most recently seen Borle as Prior Walter in The Signature Theatre Company’s Angels in America, or Tom Leavitt on TV’s Smash, it’s kind of easy to forget his deft hand with physical comedy. But Black Stache will remind you how truly hilarious he is capable of being, particularly in the second act scene where Captain Hook is born. Even if you don’t realize it, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for through most of the show, and Borle’s perfect comedic timing is the ultimate payoff.
Of course I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t note that the direction, by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, is top notch, and in its own way, kind of the star of the show. With a set that is paired back to the basics—very little modern technology here, outside the electric light—Rees and Timbers make ample use of simple props and the bodies of the cast mates themselves and trust that the audience will come along on the imaginative journey with them. They also trust that even the most remote, erudite of jokes will land, and do absolutely no pandering or hand-holding. That trust, and the unspoken pact it engenders with the audience, allows even the simplest tricks to soar.
Photo: New York Times