By Daniel Skora
The Open Book Theatre Company is now the newest professional theatre in the Downriver area, beginning its third season in their new home in Trenton. The black box theatre located at 1621 West Road seats eighty and occupies a space that was once two separate storefronts. The first production in their new home is being performed in-the-round, though flexible seating arrangements are promised for future shows.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is the first of five plays scheduled for the current season. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, it’s meant to enlarge the legend of Peter Pan as originally conceived by Pan’s creator, J.M. Barrie. “Starcatcher” is a play of adventure, fantasy and imagination. It’s a story that covers land and sea and air, settings greater than any stage could be expected to contain. It tells of the orphan boy Peter, an outcast of the world in search of an identity. In the course of his adventures, he crosses paths with Molly Aster, an apprentice starcatcher who just might prove to be his savior. The story goes something like this:
On the docks of 1885 Portsmouth England, two identical trunks belonging to the Queen are being loaded onto separate sailing vessels, one on the good ship Wasp containing a precious cargo to be watched over by Lord Aster (Dennis Kleinsmith), the other on the dilapidated ship Neverland, which will carry a decoy trunk as well as the Lord’s daughter Molly (Taylor Morrow) and her nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Kez Settle), who are unaware that the trunks had been switched by Slank (Dan Johnson), the cruel and greedy Captain of the Neverland soon after he acquires from Grempkin (James Busam), the keeper of an orphanage, three vagrant boys, Ted (Jaclynn Cherry), Prentiss (Mindy Padlo), and Peter (Alexander Sloan), who escape even while being guarded by the sailor Alf (Nick Szczerba) and while Lord Aster discovers that Captain Scott (Sean Paraventi ) has been taken prisoner and the Wasp is now under the control of the devilish pirate Black Stache (Jonathan Davidson) and his first mate Smee (Lenora Whitecotton), all of which sets in motion a frantic race for the treasure box that involves glowing amulets, starstuff, an active volcano known as Mt. Jalapeńo, a pair of bloomers that affect a rescue, an island of natives who give sacrifice to an alligator named Mr. Grin, mermaids that like to rejoice with a little song and dance because they were once fish, and the burning question of whether a young boy will get his wish to never grow up.
And that’s hardly the half of it!
When all is said and done, “Peter and the Starcatcher” performs like a play that’s been stitched together from parts that never seem to coalesce into a unified whole. Elice’s script, and no doubt the novel, is all over the place, the result of both too much and too little. Rather than being a proper antecedent to Barrie’s classic tale of “Peter Pan”, Peter and Molly (who eventually goes on to family life and gives birth to the future Wendy) seem more like shills to both the play’s more extravagant characters and the juvenile skits that pass for humor. By all means see this play armed with some knowledge of the plot or you may become bewildered as to what’s going on. The dialogue is not always crisp and clear as the dialect has a decidedly British flavor, pirates have their own way of assaulting the English language, and the theatre-in-the-round format often finds actors speaking through the din to the people on the opposite side of where you’re sitting.
That said, there’s a lot of love and dedication put into the show by director Krista Schafer Ewbank, music director Jeff Bobick, and an enthused and talented cast. Some of the skits are entertaining in spite of being silly. Stage manager Danielle Gilbert is kept busy handling an abundance of properties that include multi-purposed ropes and poles, glowing amulets, toy sailing vessels, sea-shell brassieres, and an alligator that develops a size problem after ingesting some of the fabled starstuff.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” runs through October 1st. Tickets can be purchased online via credit card or by mailing a check to Open Book Theatre Company at their new address at 1621 West Road, Trenton MI 48183. Further information is available by phone at 1.734.288.7753, via email at email@example.com, or at their website at www.openbooktc.com.