The Pirate Laureate of Port Town

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Editorial Review

This ‘Pirate’ still getting its sea legs
By Jane Horwitz
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Talented young actors cavort through “The Pirate Laureate of Port Town,” an arch, feather-light new play about pirates who fight with rhymes instead of rapiers.

To get a sense of the tone, you should know that these pirate/poets of the Caribbean write with quill pens, then post their work on a “blarrrrrrgh” (blog), me hearties.

The cast of “Pirate Laureate” brings much-needed ballast to playwright Zachary Fernebok’s pun-and-rhyme-inflated script. They’re called upon to spoof and pay homage, more or less simultaneously, to all things poetic and piratical, while also suffering for love. Still, Fernebok has a knack for satiric turns of phrase, and in a gratifying number of scenes, the newish Flying V troupe makes smooth sailing of his script, as navigated by artistic director Jason Schlafstein. The show continues through Sunday on the stage of the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.

Before the play starts, take time to enjoy Joseph Musumeci’s set. Part of a ship’s bow sits at center stage, complete with a crow’s nest, a furled sail and a skull-and-crossbones. Just beyond the ship’s railings at either side hang big canvasses painted with blue-green ocean views. After intermission, with a few clever changes, we’re shipwrecked on a beach.

Finn (Alex Vaughan), the protagonist in Fernebok’s tale, holds the title of poet laureate aboard the pirate ship Chartreuse, where quatrains rate far higher than doubloons and poetry prizes are the booty they seek.

Finn communes with his landlubber lady love, Sandy (Megan Graves), in his dreams. They somehow exchange messages in bottles, too, logic and ocean currents notwithstanding.

Fellow crew mate Opal (Megan Reichelt) harbors a secret love for Finn, and this threatens to turn “Pirate Laureate” into a teen movie. Luckily, the plot steers past it, mostly. Rounding out the crew are the dandified Captain Grayscale (Matthew Pauli), his stalwart first mate Hue (Maggie Erwin) and his tattooed swabbie Ruby (Doug Wilder).

A storm hits and, afterward, the Chartreuse’s “lumber be leakin.’ ” Crew members determine they must sail to the nearby harbor of Port Town for repairs. Grayscale balks, as that’s where he left his former love, the island’s ruling governess (Erwin), in a flurry of ill feeling. Grayscale insanely threatens to attack Port Town, but before he can, a powerful force swamps the Chartreuse.

After intermission, we find Grayscale and Finn shipwrecked and shackled together on a beach near Port Town, allowing actors Pauli and Vaughan some amusing physical comedy. We meet the perky Sandy in the flesh, the fearsome Governess and her conniving new fiance LeReif (Wilder), and the femme fatale poetess Aurora (Reichelt). A poetry contest straight out of reality TV ensues, but the play sputters on too long afterward.

Fernebok explains in background notes that he drew inspiration from the Monkey Island video game series, “X-Men” comics and Jules Verne’s science-
fiction stories.

His ambitions for his script certainly embody Flying V’s mission statement to present work that “embraces high concept situations without sacrificing . . . emotional resonance.” The play never quite achieves that balance. Cheeky wit wins out over true emotion most of the time -- it’s the fallback position.

“The Pirate Laureate of Port Town” brims with wit but wears its heart hidden inside its sleeve.