Peter and the Starcatcher at Slidell Little Theater through Feb. 4
When I saw Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway in 2012, I found the first act, set amid dreary workhouses and the dank holds of ships, overly dark and, worse, a gobful of exposition slowed it to a tedious crawl as we met a Lord, his daughter, her nanny, some nasty sea captains and their henchmen, a preening villain by the name of Black Stache, and an orphan boy with no name, called just ‘Boy.’ The second act, however, blossomed into a different, bewitching show full of theatrical legerdemain, light, and emotionally rich material.
Approaching Slidell Little Theater’s production of Rick Elice’s adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel, a kind of Peter Pan prequel, I wondered in my last column if “the Slidellians might be able to make the rst act as enchanting as the second.”
Well, hear hear, pip pip and jolly good show, indeed they have.
Applying the old adage that “less is more,” Director Gary Mendoza has lightened the first act by using a minimum of scenery and relying on the words themselves, as well as his fine actors, to tell the story. In this way, though the script still ladles out an oversized portion of narrative, Mendoza allows the audience to imagine all the details which leads to a much more engaging experience.
Granted, this approach, fueled, I suspect, as much by economics as aesthetics, precludes some of the oohing and ahhing that the second act’s Tony-winning production values engendered on Broadway, but by then this tale has taken flight and SLT’s smashing production soars to its fitting conclusion.
In this paean to the magic of storytelling, one of the most heartening aspects of SLT’s production is how Mendoza and Co. have made it their own, an approach that too few other shows encourage (Godspell comes to mind), to avoid the xeroxed feel that plagues too many other local productions, particularly of works of the modern canon.
Perhaps Mendoza’s wisest touch is to have actual teenagers play those in Starcatcher rather than the 20 and 30 somethings that have portrayed them in the other productions I’ve seen
(Broadway and Le Petit). This adds a priceless verisimilitude to the underlying emotional ebb and flow.
And if I assume that, during football season not enough males came out to audition, whatever the reason, Mendoza’s gender-bending casting in a number of roles pays off by further stretching an audience’s imagination and balances things out in a show that has always featured one actor in (obvious) drag.
Mendoza guides the cast to mine all the laughter in Elice’s script which employs mostly Victorian locutions but current expressions (“Can you hear me?” a la a cell phone ad) slyly creep in along with anachronistic references (Ayn Rand, Michael Jackson, etc.), allusive alliterations, terrible puns, and daffily dexterous wordplay as in “I smelled a smelt” and “He single handedly rendered me single-handed.” Perhaps my favorite was a description of something as “elusive as a key in a Philip Glass opera”; from the audience’s muted response, the “Google It” sign (which seems an addition from Broadway) that appeared after some references probably should’ve popped up here as well.
As Peter and the Starcatcher keeps revealing its charms, the entire cast, most doubling in roles, proves to be utterly committed to its fanciful style and message.
Sarah Faust, a sophomore at NOCCA, makes Molly, the Lord’s daughter, to the Victorian manner born–tough, knowing and fearless as she encounters new challenges. Yet beneath her headstrong exterior lies a teenager not immune to inchoate feelings of romance, however they may startle her. Do I see Shavian heroines in Faust’s future? I hope so.
Looking like a Pre-Raphaelite model with his mane of red hair, David Stubbs, another high schooler, brings out the vulnerability in Boy (the future Peter Pan) as well as his impulsiveness and innate goodness. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have as much experience on stage as Faust and occasionally it shows. But his is an altogether winning performance, particularly during his and Faust’s unsentimental non-love scene, an absolute delight.
As two of the Lost Boys, Blakely Shouse and Mya Walgamotte continue our area’s recent tradition of outstanding performances by females of males (NOCCA’s 1776, Kristen Swanson in Caroline, or Change). Shouse, tall and angular, plays Prentiss as oh-so-logical and a rule-follower but a decent and essential companion to Boy. Walgamotte’s Ted, addicted to the joys of eating, is adorable and has his own inner strength.
Last seen as the cynical, attention-starved daughter in SLT’s The Happy Elf and before that as an older neurotic widow in Loyola’s Beyond the Horizon, in Starcatcher Cara Duffaut finds the comedy in Smee, the jolly, slightly subversive pirate’s assistant without ever overdoing it; what can’t this talented young thespian do?!
In a role created specifically for this production, Trenton Gilmore (previously seen in SLT’s On Golden Pond) wordlessly and inventively plays a cat, a bird & other characters, and gets laughs merely by creating the sound effects for a duel aboard a pirate’s ship.
Among the older members of the cast, Matthew Waranius endows Lord Aster with stalwart righteousness, while Matthew Price as Mrs. Bumbrake and Richard Sasnett as Alf, her swain, aptly and humorously fulfill all the Victorian conventions for their earthy characters.
Eric Generes’ Black Stache may lack the swashbuckling menace of Christian Borle’s Tony-winning turn, but he grows into the part in the more keenly written second act, less inspired by Errol Flynn and more reminiscent of John Belushi, not a bad trade-off.
Lillian Pfeiffer, Gary Gilmore and Carson Koffler all contribute worthily in a variety of roles.
Carol Cline plays the onstage piano with aplomb while Julie Generes’ brilliantly individualized costumes for the mermaids at the start of Act Two (one used traffic cones, another cigarette packs, one featured Mardi Gras colors, etc.) more than made up for the “no uke(lele)s” policy of this Starcatcher.
If you don’t have plans for the first weekend of Carnival, then head to Slidell for this completely captivating trip to Neverland.
Hair & Other Stories at the Contemporary Arts Center
Grand larceny was committed at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) recently. By a two-year-old. In full view of an audience.
This happened during Urban Bush Women’s Hair & Other Stories every time Aminata Balde took the stage. For not only is she extremely cute (a tongue-in-cheek video shown during intermission informs us that she’s not there just for her cuteness, but actually “runs the company”), but tremendously self-possessed and highly disciplined. She immediately steals an audience’s attention from all others around her.
Balde struck me, however, as no mere toddler lurching around the stage, but preternaturally aware of what she was expected to do, a participant in the choreography as much as the adults. I expect her to be President some day or, at the least, run her own arts organization.
Crafted from personal narratives that derive from conversations in African-American communities, kitchens, hair salons and on social media, Hair & Other Stories promises to debate “the center of perceived American ‘values’ and celebrate the persevering narrative of the African Diaspora” as well as to “explore disquieting perceptions of body image, race, gender identity, economic inequities and what constitutes freedom, liberation and release in our everyday struggles to rise to our Extra-ordinary Selves in extraordinary times.”
That’s a lot to cover in less than two hours.
I wish I could say it did so effectively, but, despite certain powerful segments, Hair & Other Stories comes off as too diffuse to make much of an impact.
It is at its best when exploring, through spoken word and movement, black women’s complicated relationship with their hair and the pressures that society in general and the Black community in particular place on women (the hair of black men seems to be absent from this conversation) to conform to a certain style. This leads to specific recollections, both humorous and disturbing, of what it was like to have one’s hair straightened; one could hear some audience members acknowledging their own similar remembrances.
Here, Madam C. J. Walker, whose hair care products made her the first female self-made millionaire in America, is viewed with ambivalence; despite being one of the most successful African-American business owners ever, her products made natural “nappy” hair seem less desirable. Interestingly, despite the unpleasantness of the hair-straightening process, the overall experience, one of bonding with other women, is looked back on fondly.
Colorism, in which darker skin tones, even within the Black community, are not always viewed as favorably as lighter ones, is touched on, but the question is left hanging as to why four of the five Black performers (a sixth is White) are light-complected.
Intriguing phrases appear (“The only thing harder than being a superhero is being a working class mother”) or are mentioned (“If you don’t get a seat at the table you’re probably on the menu”) but are not dealt with in depth.
Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis’ modern choreography is impressive, and The Illustrious Blacks music provides a stirring fusion of funk, house and pop, but too much in the show takes a simplistic approach, substituting visual shorthand for a more complicated exegesis.
All six dancer/performers (in addition to Balde) are unquestionably superb. Yet only at the start of the second act when the six men of the Black Magic Drumline, a local drum corps recently invited to be part of the production, took over the stage for a highly polished routine showcasing their disciplined ashiness did a charge of unique talent ripple through the auditorium, the only moment in the evening that organically brought the audience to life.
Not sure what to expect from this, but Evan Spigelman’s drag alter ego Mz Asa Metric is hosting and producing, so it should be pretty fab.
You ever hear something and immediately think of a taste? You ever eat something and go, “huh, this tastes like purple?” Or see something and go “hey, that building looks like an A-flat minor scale”? Our brains do some strange things, so come indulge in some carnival happy hour realness on Sunday, February 4, to explore all the vagaries of the mind! SYNESTHESIA, an afternoon cabaret (2pm) and t-dance (3pm) in the back theater of the Allways Lounge (2240 St. Claude) will bring together local drag, burlesque, theater, dance and performance art to create a one-of-a-kind variety show and dance experience. Come for the variety acts (Quinn Laroux, Gayle King Kong, Ladee Lucerne, Grand Mafun, Scott Heron, Cameron Mitchell Ware), stay for the T-Dance afterwards led by DJ Dreamer!