Trying to describe Peter and the Starcatcher, the new play that just opened at Clarence Brown Theatre, is like trying to diagram a paragraph that’s made-up entirely of one-liners and puns.
It’s like the script of the story about how a young orphan boy on a sailing ship who became a hero that turned into Peter Pan got stacked up with the comedy sketches of a Saturday Night Live show and the entire stack was fed through a shredder so that no one was sure which paper strips went with what, except that hilarious swipes at the British turned up everywhere.
If you think that’s a run-on sentence, you will have to take two sets of ears to the show just to catch all the dialogue that flies around like gun shot.
At the center of all this, quite literally, is the face of Queen Victoria, mounted like a plaque at the center of the overhead set proscenium, to whom there is due homage. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that Queen Vickie looks a lot like Mitch McConnell in a brooch-pinned purple dress with a lace head-hanky and a gold crown on top.
There are two identical locked trunks. One supposedly full of treasure to be delivered to the Queen, the other not. Each trunk is loaded aboard its own ship, heading different directions. The trick is that Boy, played by James Edward Cook with just-right uncertain determination, switches the trunks at the last minute. So the ship going home to England takes the wrong one. The rub is that ship gets hijacked by a light-footed pirate named Black Stash, who, brilliantly played by Charles Pasternak, comes within a hand’s width of stealing the entire show.
Close beside him is his right-hand man and near comic equal, Smee, smartly and hilariously played by David Brian Alley.
On Boy’s side of the plot equation is Molly, well played by Ellen Nikbakht, who both encourages and inspires Boy with the sticktoitiveness he doesn’t have on his own. Jackson Burnette’s Prentiss, Robert Parker Jenkins’ Ted and Keegan Tucker’s Mack vie with each other as Boy’s chief sidekick.
Jeff Dickamore’s Lord Aster, Molly’s father and the captain of the hijacked ship, is mostly a straight man. But Doug James’ Alf takes up lots of stage space, especially in his gradually successful attempts to romance the tall and thin Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s governess, played with cross-dressing delight by Terry Weber.
As effective as this excellent cast is at running with the show, Christopher Pickart’s apt set design and the stagecraft and choreography of director Casey Sams are effectively visual characters. Characters saved from drowning in bed-sheet ocean waves and a jungle-sized crocodile work their magic.
But just in case anyone thinks this is straight-forward comedy, before the curtain opens for Act II, the entire male case, with Charles Pasternak in a flashing bra, puts on a screamingly funny mermaid drag queen show.
In the end, though, it is Pasternak, whose improvised reaction to slamming his hand in the lid of the truck he steals, who steals “Statcatcher” along with it, who makes the whole thing worth the price of admission.
You won’t go home disappointed.