Do you know how an orphan boy became the perpetual youth Peter Pan? Ever wonder when Wendy got so daring? And how exactly did Captain Hook lose his hand?
Penobscot Theatre Co.’s production reveals all that and more in the eye-popping holiday show, “Peter and the Starcatcher.” It is a delightful production featuring local and visiting talent who lift the weak script up toward the second star to right and fly it straight on ‘til morning.
The story of how Peter became Pan gets off to a slow start but kicks into high gear the moment Dominick Varney walks on stage as Black Stache, the villain who someday will be known as Captain Hook. Varney, sporting a huge, black mustache, struts, prances, bellows and whines the pirate to life.
The actor, starring in his 50th production with the theater company, brings his usual infectious energy to the stage, and the cast feeds on it. Varney is mesmerizing in the role, and theatergoers who are familiar with his work will be thrilled to see him take charge of the Opera House stage for the first time in nearly three years. He last appeared with the company in the bedroom farce “Don’t Dress for Dinner” in February 2020, a month before the pandemic shut down performing arts venues around the world.
Visiting actors Jackson Baker as the Boy and Emily Chester as Molly, the girl who will become Wendy’s mother in “Peter Pan,” are equally charming. The Boy’s longing for a home and a real mother pulls at the heartstrings while Chester’s independent Molly defies the gender roles imposed on girls in the Victorian Age. Both are a bit old for their roles but the actors manage to capture their awkward, early inner teenager, especially when it comes to kissing. It’s believable, most of the time.
Local talent in the show includes Aaron Kircheis, Bob Smith, Joshua Flanagan, Rebekah W Novak, Jeri Misler and Gibran Graham. All are delightful but Graham’s incredibly long fart is what young theatergoers will be giggling about all the way home.
Director Matt Hawkins, an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, brings out the best in his cast. He keeps the action moving as much as the script allows, while wringing every laugh and then some from the show.
The technical team for “Peter and the Starcatcher” is first rate. Baltimore-based William Anderson uses all of the Opera House stage to create the docks where the story begins and the island where it ends. The fly space above the stage lowers unevenly shaped pieces of cloth that look like shipwrecked sails. Lighting designer Jess Fialko, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, floods the production with light that gives it an ethereal quality worthy of Neverland.
Kevin Jacob Koski, Penobscot Theatre’s resident costume designer, has clothed these characters perfectly. But it is the pizazz and sparkle of the outfits made to open the Second Act in “Mermaid Outta Me,” a ditty about sailors being turned into the mythical sea creatures by starstuff, that stops the show. Describing the costumes more would ruin the surprise.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is based on the 2004 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Rick Elice and Wayne Barker wrote the play that premiered in early 2009 at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. It ran on and off Broadway in 2011 and 2012. Belfast’s Midcoast Actors Studio performed the show in 2018 at the Crosby Center.
Characters in the show narrate the action far too often, which slows the pace of any production to a crawl, especially in the opening sequence. This would be a far better play if the playwrights had let the characters act out the story rather than telling the audience what is happening.
Also: nobody flies.
While nobody flew in the original productions of “Peter Pan” either, since Mary Martin flew in the 1950s musical version, theatergoers expect the eternal boy to fly as he did at the Opera House in a 2007 production of J.M. Barrie’s play. Also, Penobscot Theatre Co. might take in a few extra dollars by selling Black Stache mustaches during intermission along with drinks and snacks. Even grownups want to play pirate some days and at least try to swash their buckles the way Varney does.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” will be performed through Dec. 29 at the Bangor Opera House. Masks will be required for shows at 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Dec. 17. Masks are optional for all other performances. For information, visit penobscottheatre.org or call 942-3333.
Correction: A previous version of this report misspelled Jeri Misler’s last name.