Review: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at Theatre Aspen |

Review: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ at Theatre Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Theatre Aspen's production of "Peter and The Starcatcher" closes on Friday, Aug. 21.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

If You Go …

What: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher,’ presented by Theatre Aspen

Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park

When: Through Aug. 21

Cost: $32 and up

Tickets and more info:

Peter Pan’s origin story gets a funny, pun-y, inventively presented and irreverently performed treatment in Theatre Aspen’s “Peter and the Starcatcher.” The play, which opened last week and runs through Aug. 21, is a love letter to the power of imagination.

Resourcefully staged in the cozy confines of the Hurst Theatre with a simple wood set, the ensemble cast uses ropes and ladders and toy boats and a whole lot of imagination to bring the audience onto the high seas and, eventually, to Neverland.

Early on, when a flying cat appears (actually a ragged stuffed animal held by cast member) an actor addresses the audience directly: “We ask you now to imagine a grown cat in flight.” The crowd is thus invited to play along.

The cast doubles often as scenery, lining up to form the inner sanctum of a ship, creating the waves of a stormy ocean and the tangles of a jungle and — with some rope and cloth — transforming into the mouth of a flying crocodile. Though the tools are simple, this stagecraft creates some truly special effects. Seeing it come together, flittingly and with childlike spontaneity, is as exhilarating as theater gets.

Adapted from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s popular novels, watching the show is like reading a great book as a child — the kind that inspires makeshift costumes and outlandish new plotlines and a bedroom floor of lava.

The plot here involves two ships — the Wasp and the Neverland— sailing to Rangoon. One of them holds some precious cargo — a magical dust, known here as “star stuff” — along with three forsaken orphans, the nobleman’s daughter Moll, and a foppish pirate known as “Black Stache.”

From these beginnings, by way of a storm and a shipwreck (and a trippy serenade from a school of newborn mermaids and a death-defying run-in with the natives of Mollusk Island) the familiar world of Peter Pan begins to come into focus.

Thom Christopher Warren has the plum part as Black Stache — that’s Captain Hook before the hook. He’s clumsy, prone to malapropisms, admittedly “ruthless but toothless” and desperately seeking a heroic foil to his villainy.

Warren steals many a scene with this frisky turn, but leaves room for laughs from the rest of the cast, which is filled with game playmates — from his beleaguered first mate Smee (Curran Connor) to the food-obsessed orphan Ted (Spencer Hansen) to Chief Fighting Prawn (Allen E. Read) who speaks mostly in the names of Italian cuisine to a canoodling couple played by Richard Vida and a mischievous Jon Peterson in drag. Just about everybody gets a share of the snappy dialogue, which manages to sneak in a Donald Trump joke and an ironic paean to “regional theater in the Rockies”

The cast’s relentless mugging and hamming it up may grate on some grown-up theatergoers, and its bawdy humor may call for ear-muffing children younger than 13 or so, but it’s all in good fun if you’re willing to believe.

The show’s considerable heart comes from Michelle Coben as Molly and Aidan Sank as the orphan, too poor to afford a name, who would be Peter. All the madcap hijinks in this proto-Neverland are emotionally grounded by this pair’s well-acted adolescent angst and earnest first love.

By the time Tinkerbell shows up and Peter takes flight, you’re likely to float with him.