The story of Peter Pan — written as a play (“Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”) by English author J.M. Barrie in 1904, then as a novel (retitled “Peter and Wendy”) in 1909 — never seems to grow old. Sort of like the iconic boy himself.
One of the latest additions to the canon of stage versions, Rick Elice’s 2012 multi-Tony-Award-winner “Peter and the Starcatcher” (developed at La Jolla Playhouse), continues the tradition. Elice adapted his play from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s children’s novel, a prequel to the Barrie original, and added a few catchy songs.
Surely this is the funniest — and yes, the hammiest — Peter Pan knockoff ever. Heard anyone conversing in the language of the extinct dodo lately? Ever wondered how the villainous Captain Hook reacted when he lost his hand? Ever seen a mermaid with collapsible vegetable streamers for breasts?
The laughs just don’t quit — not until the ending, which is just as emotionally affecting as it’s meant to be.
The complicated and dizzyingly fast-moving plot is hard to follow, but it’s the ingenuity of the production, directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, that makes this adaptation such a delight.
With a set (by Donyale Werle) consisting of little more than ropes and rigging and a couple of giant trunks, the action proceeds from shipboard to island over the course of (an overlong, it must be said) two and a half hours.
The actors not only play multiple roles but also embody everything that’s required to tell the tale, including sound effects. A yellow rubber glove on a hand becomes a bird; actors turn into creaky doors; the crocodile with the ticking tummy is a pair of red eyes and stage-wide, paper cutout teeth, manipulated by the actors.
At stake is a trunk full of dangerous “star stuff.” A certain pirate, Black Stache (the brilliantly funny John Sanders), covets that treasure. A spunky little girl, Molly (Megan Stern), is trying to guard it until it reaches its destination.
On the high seas she crosses paths with the yet-to-be-named Boy (Joey deBettencourt) and two Lost Boys and learns — and teaches — some lessons about what it means to be a compassionate person.
The witty anachronisms, double entendres and visual ticklers fly by. And the various characters — all comically costumed (by Paloma Young) — are played to the hilt by an inventive cast.
Peter and the Starcatcher
Presented by SHN
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 1
Tickets: $40 to $160
Contact: (888) 746-1799 or www.shnsf.com