EPAC presents ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

By on March 21, 2018

Off to Neverland!

One of my high school English teachers pulled me aside after class one day and gave me some sage advice. Mrs. Ingram said, “You know, Michael, there is a difference between being childish and childlike.”

The message resonated through my laissez-faire soul. As a budding writer, I found the syntax of the statement simple yet astounding. I immediately understood the veiled admonishment and took it to heart. I would forever strive to be childlike over childish. Over the years, remembering this bit of wisdom has helped me embrace and refine my own merriment while considering how my actions may affect others.

Before that moment, I was a kid growing up on the Toys”R”Us jingle (R.I.P.). “I don’t want to grow up. I’m a Toys”R”Us kid …”

I wasn’t too far away from longing for an eternal childhood like Peter Pan, the boy who indeed never grows up, the subject of Disney movies and peanut butter, the icon created by a Scottish novelist and playwright at the turn of the 20th century. Peter Pan first appeared as a minor character in the works of J. M. Barrie who eventually turned the leader of the Lost Boys into his own feature show, which premiered on the London stage in 1904.

Pan is also the subject of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a play by Rick Elice, which made its EPAC debut Thursday, March 15. A prequel to the Pan we popularly know, the show is based on a novel by humor columnist Dave Barry and action novelist Ridley Pearson. This is how the show manages to be uniquely entertaining while straddling the line of adventure and farce. But, I’ve managed to put the fairydust before the Tinkerbell.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” opens with an introduction to a cacophony of actors (and one actress) who explain what theatregoers can expect in this tale, which winds the origin story of Peter Pan (a.k.a. “Boy” played by Michael Roman); Captain Hook, who we meet as the wily, young pirate Stache (Jordon Ross Weinhold); his sidekick, Smee (Rogan Motter); and the Lost Boys of Neverland.

The seafaring tale evokes imagination as we set sail onboard both the speedy Wasp, the fastest ship to float, and the Neverland, a sluggish cargo vessel. Both are carrying an identical trunk. One contains a supply of magical starstuff under the care of Lord Leonard Aster (Darren Wagner), his preteen daughter, Molly (Gabrielle Sheller), and her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (Kevin Lambert). The other trunk is full of sand and at the outset is switched by the scheming captain, Bill Slank (Jeff Fisher) for the precious cargo in the similar trunk; Slank stows his booty away upon the Neverland, along with three slave boys, Prentiss (Preston Cuer), Ted (Dallas Modderman), and Boy (the yet to be named Peter Pan).

The cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher” poses for a group photo at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center on Monday, March 12. (LNP file photo)

At sea aboard the Wasp, a conniving group of pirates takes command of the vessel, binds its Captain (Adam Dienner), and demands the key to the trunk from Lord Aster. Enter Stache in all his grandiose deviousness.

Meanwhile, aboard the Neverland where Molly and Mrs. Bumbrake are taking what was expected to be a safer route to their destination we meet Alf (Bobby Checcia). Alf, a slovenly sailor worn by the sea, falls for Mrs. Bumbrake and the couple provides intermittent comedic relief in a show rollicking with laughter.

After a collision between the two ships, the crews find themselves on an island inhabited by The Mollusks and their leader, The Fighting Prawn (Ian Sanchez). Prawn, once an English slave, speaks predominately in cooking terms and when he recognizes Mrs. Bumbrake, spares the lives of Peter, Molly, and others.

Despite their growing affection, Peter decides to stay on the island, christening it Neverland, and Molly returns to England with her father. The lines are drawn together as theatregoers now surely know Molly will be the mother of Wendy in the storyline becoming “Peter Pan.”

This show is bursting with comedy. The EPAC production may be one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen on any stage as director Lydia Brubaker (who also serves as the executive director of the Creative Works of Lancaster) has allowed the actors to take full charge of their characters, even allowing variance from the script to incorporate pop references and local shout-outs.

One of those local nods goes to Cheryl Markle (keyboards), who joins fellow EPAC-behind-the-scenes star Michael Blasser (percussion) to form the shows two-piece band. Some parts are so funny I can’t help but liken the troupe of EPAC actors to Monty Python, as I literally had to check my laughter as not to miss the next upcoming joke.

Weinhold is utterly hilarious as Stache; he commands the stage, not only with his delivery but his roving glances and whimsical movement. Not to be outdone, Weinhold plays up against a force not limited to her character but enhanced by her acting ability in Sheller’s Molly. Sheller’s delivery is so natural I was immediately swept away by her character and hung onto every line, whether it be a simple farce or plot-driving elucidation.

Be quick and pay attention; this show moves at a rapid pace. Do not be lulled into the splendor of mermaids, fantastically costumed (Kate Willman). Do not be swept away in the creative set design (Jordon Janota), which provides light and room for the viewer and canvas for the actors.

Blink and you may miss a subtle nuance, a glance between characters much more than a look, a line steeped in satire, and coated with humor.

If it’s a laugh you are looking to find in your treasure chest, search no further than EPAC’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” And remember, it’s always okay to be childlike.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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