Heyo! Shiver me timbers. Playwright Zachary Fernebok takes us into his fantasy pirate world inspired by the point-and-click Monkey Island video games and the animated cartoon hero, Guybrush Threepwood, a lovable but nerdy, wanna-be pirate who becomes the model for stage character Finn (Alex Vaughan). All served up with camp (style) humor.
When lights come up, we’re on the pirate ship Chartreuse, identified by the Jolly Roger skull-and-crossbones flag (set design by Joseph “Barnacle” Musumeci, Jr). From the foredeck, Finn (Alex Vaughan) and Captain Grayscale (Matthew Pauli), stare into the vast, open sea. Captain Grayscale tells Finn, to cover his eyes, and then asks:
“What do you see?”
“Nothing,” replies Finn.
Grayscale asks Finn to remove his hands from his eyes.
“It’s a lot brighter, isn’t it?” Grayscale quips, smiling.
As directed and assistant-directed by Jason Schlafstein, and Adi Stein respectively, the acting style is intentionally melodramatic and mock-heroic. As a send-up of sea tales, absurdity reigns and all logic gets set adrift. So get on board and hang on for a plot of dizzying silliness.
Grayscale is given a blustery enactment by Pauli at the start. The captain is navigating the Chartreuse to outpace a storm bearing down. Instead, the ship hits a rock that sends the crew scrambling to find corks to plug the leaks. Ruby, the Lookout, (Doug Wilder) clambers from the Crow’s nest, and gets stuck between two holes, his arms stretched like Popeye. Taking charge as navigator, Opal, depicted with cool aplomb by Megan Reichelt, tells the skipper to dock at Port Town.
This news excites the poet, Finn, portrayed by Vaughan with wide-eyed candor and laid-back tongue-in-cheek delivery. He frantically starts scribbling, because his Muse and the great love of his life, Sandy, played endearingly wistful by Megan Graves, has been waiting in Port Town 15 years for his return. So the aspiring poet stuffs love notes and sonnets into a bottle to set afloat, but instead gets tied to the mast for mutiny. Meanwhile Captain Grayscale shouts orders to plunder and pillage Port Town. But before the ship has a chance to sink, it is hit by canon fire; and all chaos breaks loose.
Could this climactic close to Act I, possibly be a take-off on the current, fantasy adventure film, Life of Pi, I asked myself, that portrays a tiger and a boy marooned in a lifeboat, and that resonates with supernatural overtones? The Pirate Laureate of Port Town is perhaps not as grand as that; but Fernebok’s Act II does reach for our hearts and challenge us with a deeper message.
The set revolves from ship to shore to reveal Grayscale and Finn, manacled with irons and chained to a huge sign post with an arrow, “To Port Town.” Abandoned on a deserted beach, they are at the mercy of rival pirates, Captain Le Reif and Aurora. Doug Wilder, who, through the aid of clever costuming is no longer recognizable as Ruby from Act I, is totally creepy as Le Reif, “…with the pearly white grin…” And his counterpart, Aurora, the versatile Megan Reichelt who was Opal in Act I, wants to dethrone Finn as a poet laureate.
At this point, the playwright really cuts loose. Finn who writes for “the joy of the craft.” is pitted against Aurora, who “writes lots of free verse.” Aurora is insanely jealous of the poet because he can write rhyming couplets that make sense; and she can’t. So Aurora challenges Finn to a poetry slam. With echoes of Suzanne Collins’ novel, The Hunger Games, the characters in The Pirate Laureate engage in a hilarious battle of pens, initiated by Aurora’s cry of: “Let the pre-eminent poet prevail.” Finn and Aurora, in an eye-to-eye combat, scribble furiously with feather quill pens, vying to write a wedding poem, an “Epithalamium.” The poem to the bride celebrates the marriage of Le Reif and Cesealia, the haughty, well-heeled governess, played with panache by Maggie Erwin, (who doubled as Hue, the sailor, in Act I). Whose poem will Cesealia select as best? Who is the greatest Poet Laureate? You have to see the play.
The Pirate Laureate of Port Town
Closes February 17, 2013
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815
1 hour, 40 minutes with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and tickets
Ultimately, the set rotates back to the pirate ship. There’s a reprise of the opening dialogue, except that this time, Grayscale, in answer to what he sees, marvels at how “bright the world is.”
The premiere of this delightfully upbeat, original play, produced by Flying V, is worth seeing for its youthful zest. The Pirate Laureate of Port Town is good wholesome fun, with dialogue free of scatology, and becomes a soothing tonic against the violence and death in video games. The implication at the end is that the plot twists could go on into infinity. As so, it seems could Zachary Fernebok’s future as a playwright.
One suggestion: Could Finn’s rhyming couplets that whiz by in rapid-paced dialogue be repeated several times, as they are in song lyrics. Then we will be able to remember the great rhyming couplets.
The Pirate Laureate of Port Town . By Zachary Fernebok . Directed by Jason Schlafstein . Assistant directed by Adi Stein. Featuring Alex Vaughan, Matthew Pauli, Megan Graves, Megan Reichelt, Doug Wilder, and Maggie Erwin. Set design by Joseph Musumeci, props design by Dre Moore, costume design by Zachary Fernebok, lighting design by Kris Thompson, sound design by Neil McFadden, and fight choreography by Jonathan Ezra Rubin. Stage manager, Jessica Chinelli, assistant stage manager, Tracy Sabo, Andrew Berry (technical director), and Alexander Li (costume construction artisan). Produced by the Flying V . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy