It seems some people never grow weary of The Boy Who Never Grew Up. J.M. Barrie’s century-old character of Peter Pan has inspired numerous books, plays and films and every few years seems to usher in yet another adaptation. In 2012, the now-defunct No Rules Theatre Company offered Michael Lluberes’ imaginative, dark and very adult adaptation Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers. Among the cast, Megan Graves made for a charming Wendy, the girl who Peter lures to Neverland to fulfill the imaginary role of mother to the fantasy island’s Lost Boys.
Flash forward five years and we now find Graves, who looks as young and acts as precocious as ever, playing almost the same role in Constellation Theatre’s fantastically entertaining production of Peter and the Starcatcher (). Nearly the same, because Rick Elice’s play is a prequel to Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, set a generation prior in the late-19th century. Here, Graves plays Molly Aster, introduced as Wendy’s mother-to-be. As with her daughter, Molly serves as a mother figure for Peter and two other Lost Boys she meets aboard the Neverland ship while on a fateful voyage with her father, Lord Aster, covertly transporting a trunk for Queen Victoria full of starstuff, the precursor to Barrie’s pixie dust. It’s the same substance responsible for keeping Peter young.
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer maximizes the company’s use of the small, 100-seat black-box Source stage, putting the audience on three sides of A.J. Guban’s expansive set that extends over the main walkway into the theater. (Note: there’s no late seating for this production, so don’t be.) The cast of 13 actors regularly come and go in all directions, heightening the fast-paced and high-flying action.
That’s not to say it’s a jolly good time from start to finish. It’s pretty slow-going at the start, when the ensemble greets the audience by calling on us to use our imaginations to transport ourselves to the world of the British Empire and a nascent Neverland. But before you can respond, “I didn’t pay $45 to use my imagination,” the actors start doing the job for us, and soon enough we’ve set sail. It’s mostly smooth sailing — maybe a little too smooth — until we finally meet the villain who becomes Captain Hook. Black Stache is the source for many of the show’s hilarious hijinks and belly laughs — and most of those as a result of the character’s rather risque malapropisms (“dyke” for “dock,” “butch” for “beach”) and scintillating punning. And the source for all that wordplay? Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, who co-wrote, with novelist Ridley Pearson, the book upon which Peter and the Starcatcher is based.
Michael John Casey plays it up and over the top as the swashbuckling Stache, who at one point is teasingly called Nancy — he’s as flamboyant as he is fearsome. Casey is a scene-stealing, scenery-chewing fop, and a scream in the climactic scene when his character begins to transition into Hook. Other standout performances in the show include the endearing Graves, perfectly cast as Molly, Christopher Michael Richardson as food-obsessed lost boy Ted, Matt Dewberry, Stache’s bumbling, sycophantic first mate who makes for a hideously unforgettable mermaid, and Jordan Campbell, who also plays a mermaid, Teacher, the one who gives Peter his last name. Campbell also plays Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s nanny who is prim and proper and prone to alliteration.
Last but not least, there’s Dallas Tolentino, who offers a Peter Pan who is tentative and tender-hearted, dizzyingly agile yet klutsy. Tolentino, who also moved memorably as the Monkey King in last year’s Journey to the West, doesn’t outshine his cohorts in impressive feats of movement and physical storytelling. Choreographers Kelly Maxner and Mollye Maxner get the entire ensemble to move swiftly and in lockstep in effortless fashion, whether evoking turbulence on the high seas or acting as inanimate objects.
Peter and the Starcatcher stands as further proof that the company, now celebrating its 10th year, does some of the best, most adventurous, most reliable work in town, all presented on an epic scale with a level of intimacy that can’t be beat.
Peter and the Starcatcher runs to March 12, at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets are $20 to $45. Call 202-204-7741 or visit constellationtheatre.org.
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