|Molly (Emily Smith) fighting with Black Stache (Noel Oishi) with the cast looking on.|
By Tina Arth
The word “charming,” when applied to a play, is often a reviewer’s analog to that death knell of blind dates, “a good personality.” Two more potential danger signals? Try “sweet” and “silly” on for size. However, Theater in the Grove’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher (a play by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) is charming, sweet, and silly – and so very much more. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dave Barry is one of America’s funniest (and silliest) writers, and his comic style can be found all over the play. Director Jessica Reed and her cast have fully embraced the playful, childlike (but not childish) spirit of the story, and the result is a terribly funny, touching production that makes children giggle while reminding adults how much richer our lives are when we stay in touch with that little bit of Peter Pan and Wendy that lurks in the hearts of all but the most jaded grown-ups.
Did you ever wonder about Peter Pan’s backstory? How did he get to Neverland, why won’t he grow up, why can he fly, what’s up with Captain Hook and the crocodile, and so many other mysteries? Peter and the Starcatcher answers these and many more questions beautifully, with none of the dry, reality-based pragmatism sometimes imposed by adults attempting to explain away childhood’s magical moments. The story is way too complex to summarize, yet simple enough that the kiddos in the audience have no trouble keeping up. In a nutshell, the play is an adventure on the docks of England, ships on the high seas, and on a faraway island. A nameless orphan boy finds an unexpected friend, the compassionate and strong Molly. Together, the two children (with a little help from their friends) outwit two different bands of evildoers, including the inept pirate Black Stache. In the end, a magical secret is kept safe and the world is (at least temporarily, I’m afraid) saved from unimaginable evil. The tale give us the genesis of Peter and most of the other fascinating characters in Peter Pan, all delivered with a nice combination of broad humor and sly wit reminiscent of the most sophisticated Warner Brothers cartoons.
Young actors Canden Clement and Emily Smith have great chemistry as Peter and Wendy. Clement is defiantly pathetic at first, lashing out with palpable anger at everyone around him, but he gradually grows into the hero we know as Peter Pan. Smith shifts gracefully between three modes – friendship, leadership, and motherly, with just enough romance to keep it interesting but not enough to make it awkward. However, it is Noel Oishi (Black Stache) who really steals the show – his odd combination of flamboyance and self-absorption is delivered in a style that wanders from utterly deadpan to over-the-top, and his star turn as a mermaid (who knew they could tap dance?) is not to be missed.
Almost every cast member has at least one sparkling comic moment, but special notice is owed to Robin Michaels, William Ferguson (his Fighting Prawn is hysterical), Heidi Share, and the small but fierce Joanna Galvan. Also not to be missed is the lovely Prudence Dawes, a tiny scene-stealer if ever there was one.
The show’s aura of playful fantasy is set as soon as the lights come up with Leslie Crandall Dawes’ amazing set design – sometimes a pirate ship, sometimes a forested isle, sometimes an undersea grotto – but always a playground for the young at heart. Ward Ramsdell and Anne Kennedy’s lighting design is inspired and lovely, and Spencer Putnam manages the complex lighting cues like a pro. Hannah Early’s work at the keyboard and Brian Lacock’s work on drums add immeasurably to the entire production, providing a range of sound effects in addition to accompanying the musical numbers that pop up occasionally in the play.
If you have kids, take them – but if not, go see Peter and the Starcatcher anyway. It’s a rare treat, and a real ray of sunshine to help with some figuratively and literally dark days ahead.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through October 15th with performances at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2:30 pm on Sundays.