Escape the constraints of the everyday world to swagger and carry-on with some entertaining steampunk pirates of the Caribbean. All you need to do is take in the world premiere of The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. The lively production is presented by the folk of Flying V, recently named the recipient of the 2015 John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company by theatreWashington.
Flying V’s The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea is an ambitious full work that is clever, cheerful good fun. The production certainly meets the theater troupe’s mission to develop and produce “vibrant original work and offbeat contemporary plays.” Pirate also has a quite optimistic premise, especially in these days of nearly constant war. The premise is that “the power of poetry trumps that of any sword”. (Your reviewer is closing his eyes and clicking his heals, wishing it be so in real life).
Penned from the fertile mind of Zachary Fernebok with direction like a rush of ingested pharmaceuticals by Jason Schlafstein, this jaunty comic show provides plenty of roguish joy to sweeten-up the well-placed doses of enlightened life lessons. It’s a kind of grown-up Sesame Street teaching the value of knowing “palabras”, as one of the characters regularly says, as well as the notion that people should treat each other nicely. And all without the need for a Johnny Deep stand-in or heavy mascara.
So what is The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea all about? Acts I and III focus on the well-mannered, slow-to-anger, bookish crew of the pirate ship “Chartreuse.” The ship flies a pirate flag with an insignia that looks like the settings icon on a computer screen. The crew has become mired in the embrace of an often charming, villain pirate named Ray del Mar who wants to be the King of the Sea. As played by Carlos Saldana, the character Ray del Mar is a pleasant cur who spews forth poetic rhymes with a Spanish accent while maintaining his skills with a sword.
Thankfully for them, the Chartreuse crew is a resilient bunch who have learned to be a team from Grayscale, their captain (Matthew Pauli as the adult figure in the production). The likeable crew includes the Pirate Laureate (an amiable Matthew McGee), his girlfriend Sandy (pleasingly conjured by Kaylynn Creighton), along with slacker Ruby (an engaging Bradley Foster Smith), the resourceful Opal (appealingly played by Megan Reichelt) and the ever loyal Hue (Farrell Parker).
The second act takes place in caves and under the seas of a mysterious island. Here Grayscale meets his rival, a British accented, snobby Pirate LeReif (Bradley Foster Smith again) and Grayscale’s mother (Farrell Parker with New York City-based Jewish mother inflections) along with a lovable, lonely-for-human love squid named Kalamara (played with a stand-out, fare-the-well flair by Natalie Cutcher).
Various story lines include how Pirate Laureate overcomes writer’s block with a special kiss, several duels with weapons both swords and rhyming lines of poetry, as well as cheesy fights, and overwrought word play with the likes of word confusions such as “sea, see and si.” There are also several subplots that reduce the show’s propulsive energy including the importance of a mother’s love to an abandoned son and a Pinocchio-like squid who wants to become a real life woman. Even when the script seems off the mark and the acting too arch and obvious, the genial ensemble gives its all for the show and the audience.
The production’s technical details are top notch. For Act I and III, Scenic Designer Joseph B. Musumeci, Jr. has provided a delightful visual renderings of the stern of sailing ship with mast, furled sail and plenty of detailing. For Act II the set takes on the notion of dry land, a caves and an under the sea look. With Kristin A. Thompson’s lighting design, Zachary Fernebok’s costumes, especially a delicious squid outfit requiring two puppeteers there is a visual cornucopia for the audience. Add in kudos for Neil McFadden’s sound design with some nifty Irish sailor songs at pre-show, and a standing ovation for the work of Music Director and Composer Steve Przybylski whose score adds immeasurable pleasure to the production.
But, and isn’t there often a “but” in reviews, be aware. The lively lunacy of Pirate would benefit from some strategic pruning of sub-plots and scene length to keep a wonderfully “arch” sensibility from being bogged down at its three act, two and half hour length. The two intermissions sap some of the production’s energy, even with technical reasons for needing two intermissions as the play is currently configured.
For those immersed in the traditional conventions of Western theater, know that Pirate is a mash-up of any number of entertainment genre. The genres includes the cinema, web-based You Tube serial videos, gaming and graphic novels that come together with the theatrical. Pirate is a glimpse into the theater of the future from a new generation of creative artists not wanting to be tightly bound by what came before.
Flying V prides itself on being an ensemble-based company aiming for “high impact theatricality” with “fearless content.’ With The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea, the theater troupe successfully meets it goal and can strut its stuff; all for a $15 ticket. Now that is a right price to take a plunge at the Writer’s Center.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two fifteen minute intermissions.
The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea plays through March 1, 2015 at Flying V Theatre Company, performing at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.