Peter and the Starcatcher
When my 8-year-old daughter plays with her dolls, I marvel at her imagination. I sometimes feel I’ve completely forgotten how to use mine. When she asks me to play with her, I struggle to invent even basic plots, while hers contain complex characters, unheard-of inventions, exotic locales and costumes made of paper napkins and hair ties. It’s a wondrous thing to behold.
The world of imagination created in Reno Little Theater’s Peter and the Starcatcher evokes the same sense of wonderment. Of all the delightful things about this show, this return to the land of childhood imagination is the delightfullest.
The play is written as story theater—actors play multiple roles and provide narration as they show you the story. It’s not unlike the way kids might spontaneously perform plays for their parents, one acting out what the other says to do, all made up on the spot. The stage is decked out in ropes, wooden planks and metal scaffolding, and your task is set in the prologue: “Use your thoughts to hoist the sails and deck the ships awaiting us.”
We are then transported to the 1800s and the origin story of the boy who would never grow up, Peter Pan (played by Hannah Gebensleben), and his nemesis, the “pirate with scads of panache,” the beguiling Black Stache, who eventually will become Captain Hook.
In this imaginative tale, before Peter Pan had a fairy friend, met a girl named Wendy or piloted a flying ship, he was a nameless orphan who was sold as cheap labor to the good ship Neverland.
Also aboard is Molly Aster (Hannah Davis), the plucky 14-year-old daughter of a wealthy lord who takes a shine to the orphan boy and shares her magical secrets with him. Together, they encounter mermaids, a shipwreck, Black Stache (Chad Sweet) and a strange tribe of jungle dwellers.
At its heart, this is a story about Peter’s journey of discovery as he learns that what makes him different also makes him special. But it’s also about the extraordinary power of imagination. After all, with nothing but old-fashioned rope, toy wooden boats, creative costuming, some cleverly used kitchen utensils and the actors’ movements, we can convince ourselves that what the actors say is true.
It helps that the show is masterfully directed. The script absolutely depends on timing—one actor begins a line that another finishes. One actor narrates an action precisely as another performs it. The play’s rapid pacing in lesser hands would leave the actors tongue-tied, but, like a well-choreographed dance, these actors never miss a step.
The actors are tremendous, and Chad Sweet’s Black Stache is a glorious thing to behold. A funnier, sillier character you aren’t likely to find, and his unique brands of egotism and idiocy are alone worth the price of admission.
Though it’s billed as family-friendly, it’s a two-hour show—long for very little ones—with a few adult-oriented gags and a sophisticated plot that young children may struggle with. My 8-year-old loved it, but it was also a bit of a reach for her.
Nonetheless, I assure you it’s just as Black Stache promises: “A little swash, a bit of buckle … you’ll love it more than bread.”