By Quinn Rigg
More often than not (as in, most conscious moments) adulthood proves more complicated than anyone intended it to be.
Precariously balanced on the foundation of our childhood, the future whirls, teetering on a razor’s edge between absurdity and stability; and yet, that foundation of the past remains concrete. The simple dreams and playful schemes of childhood provide common ground between all people, because somewhere buried beneath the sediment of grown-up life lies our innate childlike curiosity. Citadel Theatre’s energetic production of Peter and the Starcatcher seeks to bore into that sediment to unearth that childhood wonder.
Written by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker, Peter and the Starcatcher is a play with music that reinvents the classic tale of Peter Pan with artful sincerity and hilarious gusto. A synopsis of the epic and winding plot may be found here. Citadel’s production utilizes many aspects of the clowning tradition, as influenced by Director Jeremy Aluma and many others in the cast. As a result, the ensemble is encouraged to perform with candor and sensitivity towards themselves and the audience; they form a relationship with the audience as they would a scene partner. Already chock-full of fourth-wall-breaking humor, the script is fully supportive of the relationship of actor to audience.
Aluma’s direction harnesses the play’s spirit of adventure. This production has a keen focus on play: from the first giddy moments of an ensemble entering a stage in darkness, the energetic pulse never dulls for a second. The influence of clowning is clear from beginning to end; as such, Aluma’s use of clowning conventions lends sincerity and discovery to the work seen on stage. However, the manic excitement that courses through the ensemble is often misdirected into harsh levels of volume. While explosivity is attention-grabbing, there are only so many energetic peaks that a play can handle—particularly within Citadel’s intimate space. When the bombastity of the play is focused, the sincerity and that Aluma and the Starcatcher ensemble cultivate together is magnificent; moments of tenderness and subtlety are stupendously compelling.
Scenic design by Eric Luchen is an artfully crafted playground, heightened with a smattering of found objects courtesy of props designer Lacie Hexom. Together, Luchen and Hexom create an apt aesthetic of miscellany that complements the play’s thematic center. Just as Peter finds family in his fellow outcasts around him, so too do the objects in the space coalesce to an ensemble greater than the sum of their parts. The multi-tiered set affords directorial opportunity for surprise and play. Actors pop out of shelves, fall down stairs and hide in every nook and cranny.
Jayson Lee soars as Peter Pan, manifesting the spirit of rebellious youth with grace and spunk. Lee wraps the audience into his journey from lonely orphan to sprightly hero. The fire in Lee’s eyes reveals a vital spark of connection that guides the story through empathetic
Mariah Copeland becomes a star of her own as the tenacious starcatcher-in-training, Molly Aster. Copeland lovingly embodies the ambitious energy of a young adventurer with something to prove. The youthful vigor is starkly contrasted by Copeland flipping into part of the ensemble—a change made with effortless tact. Copeland’s voice is a force in the room that demands keen attention.
The chemistry between Lee and Copeland is spellbinding. Their vulnerability with one another is more captivating than all of the magic tricks in Neverland. The powerful duo is well met by their mortal enemy, the Black Stache, played with endearingly oafish malice by Adrian Danzig. Danzig moves and speaks with incredibly cartoonishness; yet, he maintains a perfectly candid composure within the rules he sets for the character. Danzig allows the comedy to be discovered within the situation, rather than playing up to the audience, and it is precisely this subtle commitment to honesty that makes him such a joy to watch.
Citadel Theatre’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher is as sweet as it is energetic. Through moments of surprise and feats of creativity, this play reaches the core of what it means to be a child, and why growing up is as grueling as it is exciting.With a (literally) stellar cast, the care within this piece is evident. Citadel does well to access the heart of this work, and with further refinement of its ecstatic energy, this production could truly soar across the stars.
Citadel Theatre presents “Peter and the Starcatcher” through Sept. 30 at 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. More information and tickets are available here.