The Column Online



by Rick Elice
Music by Wayne Barker
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

North Texas Performing Arts Repertory Theatre

Director/Costume & Projection Designer - Ryan Matthieu Smith
Music Director - Caleb Pieterse & Kennedy Styron
Choreographer - Raymond Govender
Fight Choreographer - Jonah Gutierrez
Set Designer - Jo Alamares
Lighting Designer - Greg McKnight & Andrew Makepeace
Prop Designer - Lisa Rodenbaugh
Sound Designer/Stage Manager - Ruby Pullum

Boy - Kennedy Styron
Molly - Avery Baker
Black Stache - Lindsay Lintelman
Mrs. Bumbrack/Teacher - David Helms
Smee - Caleb Pieterse
Alf - Kelton Neals
Ted - Dayan Rodriguez
Prentiss - Taylor Owen Mercado
Captain Robert Falcon Scott - Shane Morgan
Grempkin/Fighting Prawn/Mack/Sanchez - Duncan Michael
Bill Slank/Hawking Clam - Benjamin Bratcher
Lord Aster - John C. Hogwood

Reviewed Performance: 9/6/2019

Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Have you ever wondered what happened before Neverland? Before the pirates? Before Peter Pan became Peter Pan? PETER AND THE STARCATCHER poses just such a premise and answers questions you didn’t even know you had about the infamous island and the equally infamous boy. The North Texas Performing Arts Repertory Theatre has turned their simple black box performance space into a magical land of mermaids, fairies, and flying giant crocodiles in their production of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER.

Typically, I try not to focus too closely on describing plot in these reviews. However, because of the speed and chaotic nature through which important plot points are shared at the opening of the play, here are some important things you need to know. There are two ships headed to Rundoon (The Wasp & The Neverland) and there’s a trunk on either ship (one with magical star stuff and one without). There’s a man (Lord Aster) and his daughter (Molly Aster) who have purposefully split up between the two ships. Now, The Wasp should hold Lord Aster and the valuable trunk…but we find out later that a troublemaker swapped the trunks at the last minute, and The Neverland holds all of Lord Aster’s precious cargo (both daughter and trunk). But what of Peter?! Well there are three orphans aboard The Neverland – Ted, Prentiss, and Boy (and guess which one Peter is). Molly befriends the three orphans, like a true leader, and through a series of perilous adventures, The Neverland crashes on an island. And well…there begins our origin story in full.

Walking into the black box space, prior to the show, creates an immediate immersive effect for the audience. The house music is fully comprised of period appropriate acapella sea shanties that are like nothing you would hear anywhere else. And the light haze and dim lighting are a perfect visual pairing to the music. The simple set, designed by Jo Alamares, adorns the performance space with sails and flags and clothes lines hanging from the ceiling. There is also a simple rope railing separating the thrust stage space from the audience seating area. Nearly everything else used to signify location throughout the production is either cleverly shown on the projection screen or even more cleverly formed by the actors’ bodies.

The role of director for this show is no easy task, as it is the actors themselves who build the settings with their voices and bodies (and a few simple props). Ryan Matthieu Smith did a wonderful job staging very visually pleasing scenes with his dynamic blocking, artfully maneuvering the actors into forming walls, trees, rocks, etc. This show calls for creative staging, and Smith met that call bravely and splendidly. My number one complaint with this production is how often I felt that the actors were simply yelling in the audiences’ face – mistaking volume for acting. The lack in variety of volume and tone was an overarching issue, which made me feel as though they were perhaps overly instructed to keep up pace, leading to a production almost entirely comprised of insane speed and loudness. While that was a pretty major issue, I still feel that Smith had a strong hold on the storytelling elements of the production, making sure the important heartfelt themes resonated clearly and enchantingly throughout.

Smith also acted as costume designer, somehow managing to combine contemporary and Victorian styles seamlessly. (Please ignore that pun, and forgive me.) The colors were all perfectly chosen, using olive greens, browns, tans, and blacks to match the visuals we might imagine that orphan boys and poor sailors would adorn themselves with, in (slightly magical) Victorian London. It can be difficult to create purposeful mismatched looks without it appearing that you told actors to just pull out random pieces from a pile of clothes. But Smith managed to find that balance, and produced harmony from chaos.

The lighting design, by Greg McKnight and Andrew Makepeace, was vital to the production’s success. With so many shifts from locations and storytelling methods, the lighting is the most important design element required to keep the audience in the loop. The design of each of these scenes was very well done, especially within in such a small space. Unfortunately, the execution of the cues was not always consistent, and sometimes confused (more than helped) the audience in understanding what was going on. But when the cues were hit correctly, the effect was stunning.

Portraying the elusive Boy (later referred to as Peter Pan, himself) was Kennedy Styron. The moment Styron walked on stage, I knew exactly who they were supposed to be. The pain and emotional depth from Boy’s childhood in the orphanage was surely present in their performance. But there was a lack of enthusiasm and playfulness for which that character is inevitably best known, which made that transition to Peter Pan very difficult to believe. Unfortunately, there was just no variety in Styron’s performance – both physically and vocally. And though the final moment of Boy’s flight was definitely lovely and touching, I really just wanted more from their overall performance.

Avery Baker played know-it-all Molly Aster with a perfect blend of comedic motivation and heartfelt enthusiasm. She commanded the three orphan boys like a true leader, especially when reminded over and over that only boys can be leaders. Her competitive nature and resolute attitude were inspiring. Alternatively, Lost Boys-in-training, Taylor Owen Mercado (as power-hungry Prentiss) and Dayan Rodriguez (as food-hungry Ted), were a delightful dynamic orphan duo with a bit less intelligent determination. Mercado and Rodriguez had great onstage comradery and excellent comedic timing.

Every child needs a nanny, and before nannies of the canine variety existed, there was Mrs. Bumbrack, as played by David Helms. And let me tell you something, Helms simply stole the show. Without taking advantage of silly expected stereotypes that he could have easily used to back his performance, Helms was simply a man in an apron playing the nanny. And I believed every bit of it. His physical mannerisms and artful maneuvering of some overly complex dialogue were such a joy to behold. And when you thought you’d seen the best of his comedic abilities, he came onstage in Act 2 as Teacher. And I’ll say nothing more about it, as that moment is easily worth the price of admission.

Have I mentioned that there is a bit of live music throughout this production? There are onstage instruments, including an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and something on a level all its own. Was it a squeezebox? Was it a concertina? Was it a really tiny accordion? I don’t know and I don’t know that I care. I simply want YOU to know that incredibly talented actor Caleb Pieterse as Smee plays it a couple of times throughout the show, and it is IMPORTANT AND CHERISHED. Pieterse was also a hilarious Smee, and played the character with an adorable charm and lighthearted wit. His onstage antics were such fun to watch. And it’s possible that I’ve simply been dazzled by his adorable little accordion playing, but to that I say, “So what?!”

Give yourself extra time to get there, because the search for the theatre is almost as arduous as Molly and company’s journey to Neverland. But I definitely encourage you to support local theatre and tiny little accordions by seeing PETER AND THE STARCATCHER at the North Texas Performing Arts Repertory Theatre.

North Texas Performing Arts Repertory Theatre
Willow Bend Center of the Arts
6121 W. Park Blvd. B216
Plano, TX 75093

Plays through September 14th.

Friday at 8:00 pm; Saturday at 2:30 pm and 8:00 pm.

Tickets are $20.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website at or call their box office at 972.422.2575.