I did not spend a lot of my childhood with children’s stories. Peter Pan might have been the Disney version which I might have watched. But, I do not truly know whether I saw it. My friends must have, for I know about the basic storyline of a boy who did not want to grow up, a small, firefly like ferry, and pirates lead by one with a hook for a hand. I did not actually read the book until my wife bought it for me some decade after we married. Late bloomer, I guess… or maybe I never grew up enough to be a child.
But, others have been obsessed with J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play and subsequent books, and prequels (e.g. Finding Neverland). Even the humorist Dave Barry collaborated with Ridley Pearson on novel, Peter and the Starcatcher, which Rick Elice and Wayne Barker made into a play-musical to give the back-story to Peter, the Lost Boys, pirates and Captain Hook, and even Wendy’s grandmother. The Blackfriar Theatre’s troupe included this among their summer Shakespeare plays for the complexity of its language, swash-buckling and court jester style clowns.
Briefly, the plot centers around two ships sailing to a common destination. Each carries a trunk, one with treasure, the other a decoy. On each ship are passengers, including several orphans. Pirates and the Islanders will come into play too. I shall not go into the details, as this is where the fun of the script gives the performers many opportunities to play with words, conjure up action, and create the dream of Peter Pan.
If I were better versed in the various manifestations of the Peter Pan legend, I probably would have picked up on more of the references in the play. But, without such knowledge, I could enjoy the rapid action’s twists and turns as the ships change course.
Peter (Benjamin Reed) brings us the sadness of his and his companion orphans (Allie Babich and Josh Innest), as well as his elation as discovering his magical powers when he come in contact with the stardust. Molly Aster (Lauren Ballard) seeks them out in the ship’s hold, befriends them, and helps them escape their intended destiny. She and her father (Rene Thornton, Jr.) are starcatchers. Molly captures the stage in every scene she is in, whether encouraging the boys, slipping past the ship’s crew, or out-witting the pirates. Black Stache (Greg Bronstrom), the captain of the pirates, prides his mustache, which grows larger and more curled with each scene. By the end of the play, we will know that his obsessions will turn him into Captain Hook on his eternal hunt for Peter. Even Tinker Bell will show up by the end of the play, moving so quickly, we can hardly keep track of whom she is buzzing about.
This brings us to one complication of the script. While enjoyable at face value, for someone unfamiliar with Peter Pan, many of the references may be missed. If parents are wanting to introduce young theatre patrons to Peter Pan, this play may be more confusing that enlightening. If parents want to enhance their child’s love of Peter Pan, some of the jokes and scenes are better for adult audiences not young viewers… But, then again, we grew up on all those double-entendre jokes in Bugs Bunny, and The Simpsons was more than a cartoon…