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Bare stage production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” comes to Ruth N. Halls Theatre

At the beginning of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” an ensemble of actors enters a bare stage and asks the audience to use their imagination. 

They mention what the play will involve: dreams, adventure and growing up. With a snap of a finger, the audience is transported to a bustling British port, which is where the story begins.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” will be performed Oct. 27 to Nov. 4 at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. Tickets start at $20.

Providing a backstory for characters like Peter Pan, Wendy and Captain Hook, the story follows a nameless orphan who goes on an adventure to the mystical island of Rundoon with a young girl named Molly. 

They set out to protect a treasure chest of magic star material from a pirate named Black Stache all while trying to save the world.

“It takes place somewhere between reality and your own imagination,” director Murray McGibbon said. 

The play includes fantastic set pieces, such as flying cats, crocodiles and two ships colliding onstage. Produced in a style called rough theater, the play uses a lot of invention and perceived improvisation to portray scenes and props. 

A rubber plunger functions as a telescope and later a fencing foil, and a trash can lid might become the wheel of a ship. 

“There has to be a level of charm and wonder in the way we’re telling the story,” Michael Bayler, actor playing Black Stache, said. “Instead of a door, we have people who are holding a rope to look like a door. We have people who, when they’re doing a sword fight, they’re using a cane and a plunger.”

Throughout the story, characters deal with finding where they fit in in the world. Black Stache wants to find a great hero who can oppose his villainy, and Molly wants to find friendship in Peter and the other orphans.

“One of the areas that's explored is finding what home means to you, and where you fit in, trying to find yourself and where you belong,” Bayler said.

The play features occasional musical numbers and instrumental flourishes. While not considered a musical, the music does serve to underscore the text and contribute sound support for the action onstage.

"It’s very upbeat; it’s very joyful,” McGibbon said. “There’s a sequence in which every character in the play plays the part of a mermaid, and they put on a dance revue. I guarantee that’s going to be worth the cost of admission.”

The humorous aspects draw from comical styles of different periods, especially from British musicals, comedy and farce. The comedy is meant to appear improvisational in the same way that the props appear.

“It calls for all sorts of verbal acrobatics and physical skills that go back to the commedia dell’arte, right through Charlie Chaplin or modern contemporary stand up comics,” McGibbon said. 

The orchestra is composed of a pianist and percussionist. The sparse instrumentation helps give the story a more rough quality, according to Bayler, rather than the feeling of a grand production.

“The piano kind of rattles along in certain parts, and then it can be bouncy at times, but can also be very legato and fluid,” Bayler said.

Because of the humor and fantastic elements of the play, McGibbon said audience members can look forward to being being transported to mystical places.

“They can look forward to laughs, spectacle, funny language, corny jokes and the opportunity for two and a quarter hours of being a kid again,” McGibbon said.

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