The Maryland Ensemble Theatre is not afraid of a challenge and this hugely ambitious production of Rick Elice’s adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s book about the origins of Peter Pan is definitely that. The MET’s quirky main stage features concave seating that can provide sight line issues and a central pillar that scenic designers must embrace as part of their design. That task falls upon Cecelia Lee and she utilizes the full depth of the space, creating different levels with platforms for her nautical set which is heavy on detail with netting, frayed rope, crates, driftwood and sails, making a visually interesting backdrop for the story to unfold. Peter and the Starcatcher is very much a play with music and the design incorporates three musicians in their own little crows’ nest stage left.
There is a lot of information for the audience to digest at the top of the show as we are introduced to the two ships, The Neverland and The Wasp, the two trunks that are central to the plot, and many of the characters. It’s delivered in a slightly confusing manner but what the production sometimes lacks in clarity it more than makes up for in creativity as the actors really become the story. Director, Julie Herber, clearly revels in this elaborate game of chess as she moves the pieces at her disposal around the stage. Ropes are used to frame smaller moments to represent cabins and scene changes are achieved with movement of the cast with the central column the pivot as characters melt into the background as others come to the fore. This inventiveness is illustrated best when Molly Aster, played with an impeccable British accent by Caitlyn Joy, is exploring the depths of The Neverland. The Ensemble form a wall and doors that swing open to reveal different parts of the bowels of the ship and the action within to great effect.
The Captain of The Neverland is Bill Slank, played with wonderful, snarling authority, by Matthew Crawford. Crawford’s dominant stage presence is the standout performance of the first act although the manner of his demise is so low key it almost passes us by. Looking after Molly is Mrs. Bumbrake, played in true British pantomime style by Thomas Scholtes. It’s a wonderfully ridiculous performance by Scholtes who looks like he loves every minute he spends on the stage. Molly meets the orphans, Prentiss (Daniel Valentin-Morales), Ted (Taylor Rieland) and the boy who will become Peter Pan (Matt Lee). It is a huge credit to Joy and Lee that we never question that these are adults representing Molly and the boy.
Meanwhile on The Wasp, Captain Scott (another outstanding dialect delivered by Jeremy Myers) has been bound as the Pirates take control of the vessel. Robert Leembruggen couldn’t look more like Smee if he tried and he’s amusing throughout, with a no nonsense deadpan delivery that you would expect from the Yorkshire native, as the perfect foil for the over the top antics of Black Stache. Joe Jalette has the task of portraying the Pirate Captain and he bears more than a passing resemblance to Christian Borle who played the role on Broadway. Jalette takes a while to really hit his stride but his confidence grows throughout the show and by the time the second act is in full flow he’s stealing scene after scene as he struts around the stage.
As the story moves to Mollusk Island ropes descend at the rear of the stage to depict a jungle and the audience is very much required to bring their childlike imaginations along for the ride. For the most part we are happy to let those imaginations run wild with everything the story asks of us but with so many outrageous characters it is important for some real relationships to be developed to connect us emotionally at the same time. This is where the production falls a little short. The performances of Valentin-Morales and Rieland as Prentiss and Ted are further comic relief but opportunities for us to really care about these boys are passed up too often to play everything larger than life. Reiner Prochaska never feels like quite the right fit for the unflappable Leonard Aster leaving us un-invested with his relationship with his daughter, Molly. All this means that by the time Lee and Joy do give us wholehearted honesty in the final scene it feels a little out of place.
The overall vision and staging by Julie Herber for this production is a big achievement. The action flows relentlessly with the only slight complaint being the more intimate scenes occasionally being played too far forwards leaving those at either extreme of the house looking at backs. The costumes of Stephanie Hyder are excellent throughout with the individual mermaid costumes at the top of act two all hilariously unique. It’s a bold and imaginative production and while not all the choices work it’s the sort of risk taking theatre that should be on your schedule over the next few weeks.
#tothepoint Rating 69.5/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $24
Value Rating: +$15