Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Peter and the Starcatcher

This is the last in a series of six reviews.  To read the others, simply click on "previous posts" on the blog, as the reviews have been posted the last six days running.

I love the Utah Shakespeare Festival!  Really, I do.  They do three Shakespeare plays and three non-Shakespeare plays every year.  One of those non-Shakespeare plays is often a very new play, and this year it was Peter and the Starcatcher.
This play was built up by the whole staff at the Festival; they raved over how wonderful it was.  I expected to love it.
I didn't.
In fact, I had to try really hard to find things I liked about it.
Let me give you the positives first:
1) The set is fantastic, and what the actors convey with minimal props is amazing.
2) The idea to put the musicians onstage in ships' prows is a stroke of genius.
3) Quinn Mattfield, who plays the pirate Black Stache, is freakin' HILARIOUS!!!

But that was about it for what I liked.
Here are the issues I had with the play:
1) The writers never decided who their intended audience was to be.
What I mean is that we have Peter Pan, a play about a very young boy (who still has all his baby teeth!), then we have the book Peter and the Starcatchers, wherein Peter is someone older.  Then we have this play.  It seems like it should be a play for kids, but the humor is very adult.  Sometimes it's sexual, such as when Stache -- who is most overtly camp -- digs into the Lord Aster's trouser pocket to get some keys.  And sometimes it's just waaay over kids' heads, with references to Phillip Glass operas and to Walt Whitman's poetry.  So, there's a very childish story told in a very adult way.  Huh?  It didn't work too well because it wasn't clearly a parody; it was part parody and part serious.
2) Although the play is supposed to be "good for girls," it's not.  First off, Molly is the ONLY female in the play: one girl in a man's world.  She is desperate to be a leader and to become a starcatcher -- which is a type of career.  But, when the play ends, she has to remind herself to "be a woman," and her father makes her leave everything behind.  The audience is then TOLD (not shown) that Molly will become the mother of Wendy and the other boys, that Peter will forget her and come back for her daughter.  This is a reminder that Wendy's mom has no adventures, has no career, merely exists for the sake of her children, and that Wendy is wanted only so she can be a mother to the lost boys anyway.  Thus, the message to girls becomes "have adventures now because later you'll have to give up everything so you can be a good mom, as moms never get to do anything adventurous and shouldn't be anything but moms."  Honestly, what woman wouldn't this offend?  It's negative about women with careers, moms who stay at home, and moms who have careers.  What kind of message is that for girls -- or boys -- to hear?  Gag.

So, should you see this play?  Yes -- if you are an adult and like adult humor and take this play as a messy parody.  It's not a play for kids.  It's not a play for anyone who's easily offended at sexual jokes.  Oddly enough, even though the play does have a mentality that childhood should be sweet and innocent, this is not a play for those who fear having their children grow up and lose their innocence.  In simple terms, if you don't want your "sweet and innocent" child to see bare-chested men playing mermaids with spinning starfish nipples, then you probably shouldn't take said child to this play.

Now the mermaids didn't offend me at all: the message of "women belong in the nursery" offended me a great deal.  And the confused state of "who is the audience for this play?" made me irritated at the bad writing.

If this play had been described and billed as Monty Python Does Peter Pan, I probably would've gobbled it up.  But because it was presented as a children's play with strong feminism -- and it failed to deliver on both  -- I didn't like it much, even though Mattfield is a freakin' camp pirate drag queen. ;)

More photos and all ticket info are available at bard.org.

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