Peter and the Starcatcher Flies High
December 15, 2019
On Saturday, Dec. 7, I came to Valhalla Theater at 7:00 P.M to watch Irvington Conservatory Theater’s (ICT) fall play, Peter and the Starcatcher. I had done some research beforehand to know that this was a reimagining of Neverland and the birth of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. What I was not prepared for was the emotion, humor, wit, and the translation of those elements into a phenomenal and cohesive execution of the plotline.
Peter and the Starcatcher opened on Dec. 6 and ran until Dec. 14, selling more than a hundred tickets every session. Brilliantly directed by Matthew Ballin, a drama teacher at Irvington, and wonderfully choreographed by Irvington alumna and Broadway performer Juliane Godfrey, Peter and the Starcatcher was uniquely different from other Irvington productions—it was a traditional play blended with musical numbers and songs, as well as dancing. That, coupled with the abstract qualities of the play’s set up, made it one of the most difficult shows to pull off; yet ICT exceeded expectations.
The show follows a nameless orphan (Diego China, 11— Moreau Catholic High School) in his quest for a home, a name, and to satisfy his perpetuating desire to stay a boy forever. He encounters many “grown-ups” along the way: the fearsome but hilarious pirate Black Stache, skillfully executed by Roeen Nooran (12); the ritzy British nanny Betty Bumbrake, excellently portrayed by Ritvik Kulkarni (12); and the vicious ship captain Bill Slank, deftly played by Felicia Chang (11) to name a few.
We all know how the story ends. The orphan finds a home on an island he eventually dubs The Neverland, in memory of Bill Slank’s ship. He receives the name Peter, surprisingly given to him by Black Stache. He even gets to stay a boy forever, having soaked himself in a pool of a fantastical substance called starstuff, that granted him his wish and the ability to fly. Peter and the Starcatcher also entails Peter and Molly Aster’s (Jessica Haskin, 12— homeschooled) friendship – Molly’s daughter Wendy would later go on an adventure with Peter in Disney’s animated movie Peter Pan. Besides the plot, however, much of the excitement and entertainment lay in the scenic design and layout of the stage throughout the play.
“This is imaginative storytelling, the kind of storytelling that does not work in film,” said Director Ballin. “You’ll probably never see a movie about this because it’s a theatrical experience. It’s very presentational, it involves the audience, it requires the actors to make the environment.”
The play had a very minimalistic set, complemented especially by strategic lighting elements. One of the most iconic scenes, showcasing the cleverness of ICT’s production, was when Molly searched The Neverland for Peter, Prentiss (Andre Lajevardi, 10), and Ted (Leo Mutarelli, 12). She tiptoed down a corridor and had to open three doors before finally finding the boys. There’s just one catch: there was no real corridor and there was no real door. Instead, the doors were played by people, who stepped aside when Molly “opened” them and revealed groups of actors behind them, who then acted out what was happening within each “room”. The lights focused on those specific rooms, keeping the rest of the stage in darkness so we only saw what the play wanted us to see at that moment. Even more impressive was the scene where The Neverland clashed with The Wasp; there was just a wheel, a pole, a flag, and the actors split in two groups, swaying so rhythmically that we knew they represented the ships, while simultaneously acting their designated roles. It was a show of pure ingenuity and imagination.
“I think [the minimalism] worked,” said Mutarelli, who has been in every Irvington play since his freshman year. “It’s just a whole bunch of props that form this up. I had my doubts going in, but looking at the finished product, I think it definitely works.”
After watching the play, I have to agree. ICT reached soaring heights with Peter and the Starcatcher.