Chicago Theatre Review
Who Wears Short Shorts?
Pirates of Penzance – The Hypocrites
It sucks when you’re a slave to duty and you learn that your leap year birthday adds another 63 years to your apprenticeship with a band of pirates. Then, to make matters worse, you suddenly discover there are younger, prettier girls in the world than your aged, hard-of-hearing nursemaid with one flipper foot who, by the way, got you into this unfortunate mess in the first place. Such are just some of the plot complications found in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta which, while unbelievably over 130 years old, is still popular worldwide.
With a nod to Joseph Papp’s splashy, swashbuckling 1980 Tony Award-winning Broadway version (and subsequently filmed three years later), and possibly inspired by the madness of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Sean Graney has adapted and orchestrated this hilarious, swiftly-paced production that’s the third in his operetta trilogy. The three Gilbert and Sullivan productions are now playing together in repertory through February, and any theatergoer worth his salt will make an effort to see all three. Thoroughly enjoyable, filled with audience participation and overflowing with contemporary references, Graney has cast the same ten mega-talented ensemble members in this show as in his other two. Sean Graney’s production continually dazzles. Not only are these unbelievably skilled actor/singer/dancer/musicians double- and triple-cast within this particular production, they’re all playing multiple roles in the other operettas, as well. In addition to acting and singing, this gifted group of thespians also provides every note of musical accompaniment, as well. Who could ask for anything more?
Doug Pawlik leads Graney’s dream team cast that populates this Cornish coastal town. He plays golden-throated Frederick, the handsome young man who’s been mistakenly apprenticed to a band of pirates for several years. The two women in his life are his near-sighted nursemaid, Ruth, and Mabel, the lovely, lead soprano in a family of daughters. Graney has interestingly cast the talented Christine Stulik in both roles, which keeps the wardrobe mistress on her toes as the actress fast-changes between her two costumes. Also doing double duty in this cast is the always excellent and funny Matt Kahler, playing both second-in-command pirate Samuel, as well as the challenging character role of Major-General Stanley, father to Mabel and her sisters. Additionally, Robert McLean masters both the athletic Pirate King and the befuddled Sgt. of Police. Others in the cast playing more than one character are Kate Carson-Groner, Dana Omar and Emily Casey who play both General Stanley’s other daughters and a corps of humorously mustachioed keystone cops, as well. The pirate gang and other policemen are played by Lauren Vogel, Erik Schroeder and the always impressive Shawn Pfautsch.
As with the other productions, audiences are offered a choice in seating. Either theatergoers may stand or sit within the acting area, often finding themselves participants in the show; however, if an audience member is occupying a space required by an actor, they’re motioned to move to another spot, in this promenade style of seating. Shyer audience members wishing to remain comfortably seated in one place can sit on the tiered perimeter of the playing area, without fear of being asked to move.
More madness, mayhem and musical magic occurs in this tropical isle-inspired, lightning-paced, 80-minute production than audiences can even comprehend. Like a three-ring circus, bouncing between scenic designer Tom Burch’s weathered, wooden pier and several swimming pools, audiences will find actors costumed by Alison Siple in colorful, festive beachwear, short shorts and nautical gear. With rubber duckies and beach balls bouncing everywhere and audience members being offered sunglasses to wear during the performance, the G&S purist may find this uniquely inventive production not to his liking. The majority of theatergoers, however, will revel in the manic fun and unexpected frivolity and musicality Sean Graney has brought to the theatre.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 18-February 7 by the Hypocrites at the Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.the-hypocrites.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.