How Peter Pan took flight
Hinsdale Central actors bring 'Peter and the Starcatcher' to school's stage
Last updated 11/6/2019 at 5:20pm | View PDF
Origin stories are currently ripe Hollywood fruit - think "Captain Marvel" and "Joker" - revealing the core humanity within the costumed, fantastical heroes/villains fans know.
In that popular vein comes Hinsdale Central Drama's fall production of "Peter and the Starcatcher," a Peter Pan prequel telling how the boy who never grows up came to be, along with the rest of Neverland's denizens. Based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, "Peter and the Starcatcher" sets the stage for the events of J. M. Barrie's beloved "Peter and Wendy," explained director Susie Jaffe. Central English and acting teacher.
"It's kind of the back story of how (Captain) Hook becomes Hook, how Pan becomes Pan," she said.
The character called "Boy" is a 13-year-old orphan, neglected and deeply distrustful of adults whose soaring escapades set him on course to a new identity.
"He's kind of been beaten down by British society, and been sold into slavery with the other Lost Boys," Jaffe said. "We learn a lot about how Peter Pan could be that kid who would fly far every night to go hear a bedtime story, because that's how desperate he is for a home, for a family, for a mother."
Boy/Peter is played by junior A.J. Andersen, who confessed he was torn initially between wrestling and auditioning.
"I heard it was the back story to Peter Pan and said, 'I've got to do this!' " he related.
Depicting the transformation of depressed orphan Boy into the playful, energetic Peter Pan has been enriching.
"There are a lot of fun, lighthearted moments. But then there are moments when it gets more serious," Andersen said, citing a stirring line from the play: "It's supposed to hurt. That means it meant something."
Jaffe said "Peter and the Starcatcher" is written as a play that features musical elements.
"We have live music throughout, and there are a couple songs that the cast sings in a traditional musical style," she said.
Without a music director, Jaffe has empowered the cast to shape scenes, like whether a section should be delivered in song rather than spoken, as well as making decisions on lighting and movements.
"The kids are just scrappily making this work. I have a student who choreographed things, and student musicians have learned it on their own," Jaffe said, gesturing to the pianist and percussionists working with the actors to properly time the music. "The students are bringing so much of their creativity to it. It's exciting to watch students take ownership of the creative process."
She remembered being captivated by the show on a Chicago stage several years ago and was excited to see how her drama group could bring it to life.
"It's cool to make our own version of that," Jaffe said. "There's so much fantasy in this show that so much of it can be (students') dreaming."
Senior Emma Gordon plays Molly Aster, a fellow 13-year-old with considerable intelligence and athletic gifts who is trying to prove herself to her father and must overcome her social awkwardness in developing relationships with Peter and the Orphan Boys.
"She wants to please everybody and has a very strong sense of what's right and what's wrong," Gordon said. "Molly seems so smart, but she's also a 13-year-old girl who's having her first experiences with boys and puberty and all that. She has so much responsibility on her shoulders."
Gordon said each member of the 15-person cast wears multiple hats in the production.
"It's such a fun show," she said. "It's a grand illusion where you really have to suspend disbelief. Everybody plays a different character and contributes to either the set or the scenery. It's really us as an ensemble telling a story."
Jaffe said audience members will gain a new understanding of the classic tale, including some twists at the end.
"All the loose ends are tied at the end of the show of who everybody is," she remarked.
The story does include some dark undertones, but Andersen, Jaffe and Gordon all said the show is a family-friendly adventure that all ages can enjoy - especially grown-ups who still remember what it was like to be a kid.
"There's a lot of jokes that will be particularly funny for an adult audience," Gordon said.
"Peter and the Starcatcher" runs Nov. 14-16 on Central's auditorium stage, 5500 S. Grant St. Show times are 7 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15 and 5 p.m. Nov. 16. Tickets are $10, free with a student activity pass. Visit https://www.ticketpeak.com/res/hcdrama.