As the variegated pirates and wildly weird inhabitants of PETER AND THE STARCATHER are wont to say in the Hub Theatre extravaganza (@ The First Church downtown through Nov. 17th) :T T F N (Ta Ta For Now)… which means they’ll be back, again and again, swanning and swashbuckling to the delight of children, parents and ordinarily crusty reviewers. What’s not to like in Hub’s madcap mash-up of the tightly wound original PETER PAN.
Director Sarah Gazdowicz makes the production look like the inmates have taken over the asylum. The (barely) controlled hysteria reminded me of Imaginary Beasts’ free wheeling Pantomimes. Gazdowicz and several others in the Hub cast are stellar IB alumni, where imagination leaves no stone unturned. The best part of the PAN prequel is watching the characters wind up and then spin out all over the stage. Chief among them is Joey C. Pelletier’s nefarious Black Stache, arch-enemy of Peter. You know him as Captain Hook from the J.M. Barrie version. The clever children in the audience knew at once and said so out loud. (This version, imagined by comedian Dave Barry takes place before the other
story. If this is confusing to you, just wait for the wacky exposition, which I
still haven’t fully grasped) Barrie
Pelletier is a whirling dervish whose manic quips and quotes fly so fast, you can hardly keep up. He’s aided and abetted by Michael John Ciszewski as his right hand man who’s always right at hand, although the captain doesn’t notice him, thereby cementing his name. Pelletier bellows and Ciczewski answers frenetically “It’s me.” (Say this a few dozen times and you’ll see.)
Ciszewski specializes in running the best amok you’ll see all season. What’s more, you can’t wait to see Bob Mussett return as the elderly lady who thinks she might like to try romance again… even better still, she (in full beard, mind you) catches the eye of a gentlemanly seaman portrayed in marvelous deadpan by Lindsay Eagle! More delicious turns from Robert Orzalli as a Cosa Nostra chef with a menu you can’t refuse, from Jon Vellante as one of the lost, so hungry boys that he faints at the mention of sticky pudding, from David Makransky as the other lost boy who wants to be “leader” and from Molly Kimmerling as a nasty villain of a captain.
The plot is hung on the (mostly serious) characters… who don’t get to be funny but they do get to deliver some very touching moments. Claire Koenig as Peter is a wonder. We believe she’s the boy who doesn’t want to grow up (because grown-ups lie and cheat). Smart fellow! Lauren Elias as the Wendy stand-in (Please don’t ask me why she’s not actually named Wendy), does have some sport, challenging and besting the “lost boys” and some heartache when she leaves them. Liz Adams as her stalwart father oozes good breeding and fair play. Valera Bamgala, likewise, is the stand up captain of the ship with the wrong cargo. (Again, don’t ask me about the cargo. I completely lost track of the second treasure chest and I’ve seen the play before.)
Here’s the deal. The brilliant ensemble cast keeps you on your toes, expecting another surprise around the next corner. And the surprises keep coming. You’re laughing so hard, you’re afraid you’ll laugh over the dialogue so you try to squeal quietly, using your inside voice so you won’t miss anything. It’s exhausting, having such a grand time. Who cares about the silly plot anyway.