Saturday, October 22, 2016

Peter and the Starcatcher: Rip-Roaring Fun at Hollins

"Peter and the Starcatcher," Rick Elice's theatrical adaptation of the comic novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a perfectly delightful fall diversion playing through this weekend at Hollins University. The play, which is one of the more lavish you'll see produced locally, presents what director Ernie Zulia calls a "good teaching moment" for his talented students because of its extraordinary opportunity for inventive theater craft.

The play, a prequel to "Peter Pan," presents the whole cast of characters you know a generation before they become literary icons. Peter Pan (Stephanie Wollmann in a fine performance) doesn't yet have a name yet; Wendy (her mother Mollie here, played with sterling authority by Roanoker Emma Sala) has not been born; the Lost Boys (Anna Holland and Lindsay Bronston) aren't lost, they're just poor and powerless. Captain Hook (or Black Stache, delightfully over the top in Megan McCranie's world) still has both hands and Smee ... well Smee is Smee (Kendall Comolli is fun).

This is a big cast, presented with lavish costumes (Max Levitt designs), a lush and movable set (Derek Smith) borrowed from Barter Theatre and the kind of craft that keeps people coming back to theater with its clever inventiveness. Even with the extraordinary set, Zuila resorted to ropes, rubber gloves and assorted other low tech materials to create visuals like waves, doors, colorful bed sheets, windows, birds and the like.

The dialogue is crisp and funny, though if the production has a weakness it's in understanding the faux-British accents. It is lively, musical and affecting. We had the distinct pleasure of sharing the theater's seats with Hollins' athletic teams, who were fully involved, appreciative and as much fun to watch as what was going on on stage.

Let me emphasize that it is not a play for children because of its 2 hours, 45 minutes (by my watch) length. There were children in the audience (well behaved, I'll add), but most were snoozing by the time the second act began at about 9 p.m.

This is the kind of production--lavish, inventive, challenging, and extraordinarily entertaining--we've come to expect from the nationally-ranked Hollins Theatre Department and it's one you shouldn't miss ... if you can get in; last night was a full house.

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