‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ reminds us all to smile

‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

Giving Tree Theater — through March 5

Giving Tree Theater in Marion opened Peter and the Starcatcher this past weekend. Such a small space can come alive when the magic of the stories told within it are encouraged in just the right way by their tellers.

Everyone knows about the flying boy who never grows old. We’ve all daydreamed about the night that Peter might come to our windows and beckon us through them, into night breezes and unknown adventures. But then, as everyone must, we grow up. We worry about doctor’s appointments, and energy-efficient washers, and politics — and a small piece of us forgets that wonder we all possessed at some point when we were half the size we are now.

Brett Borden, Brian Smith, Ethan Dix (kneeling), Malcolm MacDougall, Kyle Pratt and Hannah Spina in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher.’ — photo courtesy of Giving Tree Theater

This show is a perfect marriage of the wonder we once had and the reality we all live in now. We never asked where Peter Pan came from, and the curiosity we gained over time produces questions that are answered, in appropriately fantastical fashion, in this prequel. The writing is witty enough to pay homage to the origin of the tale, as well to its contemporary audiences, so boredom is difficult to come by. The show is something that any age can fully engage in.

Each member of the ensemble plays multiple characters (sometimes with less than zero seconds to change from good to evil), engages in an array of physicality (be they pirates or mermaids), interacts often with the set (be it a jungle or a ship) and has to anticipate the rest of the group’s movements at all times. An incredible amount of focus and energy is needed, and every performer proves worthy of the challenge.

I’d like to give special shout-outs to Bryant Duffy for his changeable nature (and absolute nail-on-the-head performance of Mrs. Bumbrake), Brian Smith’s transformative mustache (and facial expressions that evoked moments of pure knee-slapping) and Hannah Spina’s strong female “leader” (and complete charm in her consistently honest delivery).

All the children were wonderful — well-cast and giving 100% the entirety of the time (Peter looked almost exactly like the image you might conjure on your own). The pirates so well supported each other’s shenanigans that there was nary a moment that didn’t bring a smile to my face.

The set is so simple, you might just miss all its secrets. The space is very exposed; there aren’t even curtains on stage to mask the entrances of performers. But the audience soon forgets the lack of doors and focuses on the action on the stage proper, so that surprising moments remain so. Simple cloths hanging on the sides of the exposed walls become a sea alive with storm as they are manipulated by ensemble members, or a sparkling grotto where mermaids dwell. Ropes from the ceiling become the workings of a ship in hot pursuit; later they are branches of an island jungle. They even become the bars of a native-built jail cell holding island strand-ees before they might be fed to a mythical crocodile.

Brian Smith (left) and Brett Borden, in a scene from ‘Peter and the Starcatcher.’ — photo courtesy of Giving Tree Theater

There is never a lack of action on the stage, but there could have been more moments infused with that theatrical magic inherent to this script and story. The musical numbers were rough (to say the least), but in an almost charming way — truthfully, if the music had been clean, it wouldn’t have fit the vision we were exposed to. I longed for a live piano player, though: a pirate moonlighting as pianist for a daring silent film. In general, music could have been more effective, not just for the songs (which had some pre-recorded background music), but also to provide music for chase scenes, tragic moments and awkward adolescent kisses.

David Morton’s direction is commendable. He leads this show — almost the exact opposite genre of the last show I saw him skillfully direct (A Streetcar Named Desire) — to a fulfilling final product. The performers used the space well and the energy was coached to a never-waning level.

My reaction to this show can only be the product when there is complete commitment onstage — not just to the material, but from performer to performer. The love with which this ensemble tells the story is contagious, and a welcomed distraction from the mundanity and stress of life outside the playing space.

Everyone should see this show. Life has the potential to smother us in rainstorms, bills, fears of the future — let that be lifted just a bit by this lovely show. Let yourself take a deep breath of the magic art can offer, and remember how to smile again.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through March 5 at Giving Tree Theater. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-30.

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