The Stages of MN was less than a month old when I received an email from James Napoleon Stone, Artistic Director of Theatre Coup d’Etat, telling me about his Theatre Companies upcoming production of Rogue Prince. I reviewed that production in Oct. 15th 2019. Now over two and a half years later I have a chance to review the companies final production in the Twin Cities. I’m told they are off to Chicago, we wish them well, but must also acknowledge that we are a little saddened by the news. MN will be losing a very creative theatre company, one that specializes in creating an immediacy with it’s audience that makes for a wonderfully engaging experience. Thankfully they are leaving us with one last production, Pyrates, which was written and directed by Stone featuring a cast that brings it all to life beautifully. Filled with everything you expect from a pirate story: ships, sword fights, and rum drinking, but with equal amounts of things you don’t expect in a pirate story, such as debates about preexisting conditions, Gender non-conforming sailors, songs, and a lot of swearing. Well okay, maybe you do expect that in a pirate story as long as it isn’t preceded by the Words Walt Disney Presents.
The Story is set in the 1680’s and we open as the crew of a Spanish ship is plotting to mutiny against their tyrannical captain and seize control of their own destinies. The group is led by Tanith, who uses they/them pronouns, though many of the other characters do not comply with that preference. They are aided by their mother Trix who is the ship’s Apothecary, the ship’s boatswain Bones, and their rival for the captaincy the French sailor Bouchere. The crew successfully takes control and after it is decided through a vote that Tanith will be the new captain the first order of business is to decide what the rules of the ship will be. This is where the discussion of preexisting conditions comes in as well as deciding that the penalty for sabotage of the ship will be death, the execution of which will fall to the captain. With rules decided the crew heads to English controlled Jamaica to try and sell their captive captain and negotiate terms with the now Governor, but former Captain, Morgan. After tense negotiations the crew is sent on a mission to overtake a Spanish ship conveying gold and silver to the new world. They are provided by Morgan a Spanish speaking translator named Corbin. Will they capture the ship? Will Morgan keep up his end of the deal if they do? You’ll have to see the show for yourself to find out.
Pyrates is performed in the middle of the ground floor of an old firehouse. Chairs are set up along the sides of the room and at one end where the band is also set up. The set is made up of crates, trunks, wooden barrels, a moving stairway, and ropes. Stone directs the scene changes very effectively, the cast repositions the set pieces and changes the rope configurations while singing. It plays not like a scene transition but as if we are watching the crew going about their jobs of rigging the sails, which itself creates a sense of the passage of time. I love when a company without a huge budget doesn’t allow itself to be hindered by that fact. There is never a sense throughout the show that the company is making due with anything. They embrace what they have and find inventive ways to make it work. The scenic design and props were handled by Michaela Lochen and as spare as they are, for what the show requires it is every bit as effective as the The Guthrie’s elaborate set for A Raisin in the Sun. Sometimes the less you have the more creative you have to be, and creativity feeds itself and that sense of inventiveness translates to the audience. Also worthy of praise were the costumes by Chelsea Wren, top notch, in fact I’d venture to guess that half or more of the below the line budget was on the costumes. My daughter wanted to take Tanith’s coat home with her, but every role was well costumed even the ensemble characters that didn’t have a line were top notch.
Lastly, the cast. The biggest surprise for me was how well they sang. This isn’t a musical, but there are probably six songs sung during the course of the play, such as the pirate classic “What do you do with a drunken sailor” among others, many of them having a bit of a celtic feel about them. I was expecting passable pirate chanty singing from actors not hired for their vocalization skills, but damn, they sounded good. Several of the best singers were in the ensemble and I’m sorry I cannot single them out by name. My favorite performer and a really nice singer was Kaz Fawkes as Bones. Other standouts in the cast were Meri Golden as Trix and Alex Berchem as Bouchere. Brian Joyce plays Morgan with a nice balance of anxiety producing charm, pragmatism, and hidden reserves of both coldness and warmth. Taelyn Gore as Tanith is where it gets a little wobbly, but just a little. When she’s good, she’s great, unfortunately when she’s struggling with a line her confidence departs momentarily and in this close proximity, we are all too aware. I imagine her confidence will increase as the run continues, opening night jitters I suspect. She need not have them, as I say when she’s confident she’s great.
Pyrates runs through June 27th at Fire Station 24 which is located at 4501 Hiawatha Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55406. One word of warning, there is a lot of construction right in front of the building, your best bet is to approach the building from the rear finding street parking one block east of Hiawatha Ave. Also, the building is not air conditioned, I cannot in good conscience recommend anyone go to this show on Sunday or Monday, 100 degree weather in that space with no AC would be unbearable. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatrecoupdetat.com/#/pyrates/.
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