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Pirates! A Boy at Sea
Mother Road Theatre Company

Charles Way is one of those authors (British, in this case) who has written about 40 plays, and I had never heard of him before. Maybe that's because many of his plays are for young audiences. Staci Robbins, the Director of Education for Mother Road Theatre Company, somehow discovered one of those plays, and has introduced us and many Albuquerque schoolchildren to Pirates!.

Mr. Way's full title is Pirates! A Boy at Sea, and the second part of the title is revealing. The play is about a boy at sea in the literal sense, since he spends most of the play on a pirate ship (the fact that it's imaginary is irrelevant—it's real enough in the imagination of a child). But the boy is also "at sea" in the sense of being confused, not knowing what to do, both floundering and foundering.

The story is about pirates, to be sure, but it's really about how an 8-year-old boy copes with the separation of his parents. The play is cleverly constructed so that only gradually do you realize the parallels between the boy's pirate fantasy and what's going on at home, and I shouldn't reveal any more than that. It moves over about 80 minutes from cartoonish swashbuckling to a touching moment of grace at the very end.

The play opens in 1718 with a trio of pirates discovering a treasure chest which turns out to have magic properties. It transports the pirate Captain Freely, a woman, into the bedroom of Jim, the 8-year-old, in our own time. Soon Captain McGovern, a man of the royal navy who has been chasing Captain Freely back in 1718, shows up in Jim's bedroom too. Jim and Captain Freely escape back to the pirate ship via the magic chest, and the story goes on from there until its resolution back in Jim's bedroom.

As I said, it's cleverly constructed, but I would have appreciated about ten minutes less of swordfights and wink-wink aaarrrrgh's (the kids in the audience seemed never to be bored, though). Also cleverly constructed is the set by Vic Browder. He ingeniously solved the problems of how do you have a big treasure chest go back and forth between a pirate ship and a bedroom, and how does a bed turn into a ship's deck, and how do you take the whole set apart in one school and reassemble it in another school within a few hours. The lighting by Tom Studer is good, costumes and props (especially two sharks) by Staci Robbins are fun, and some sounds of the sea provided by John Aspholm are welcome. There should have been even more sound effects, especially during scene breaks—as little as 20 seconds of blackout with complete silence interrupts the flow of the piece, but music or sound effects keep you from counting the time.

The acting is energetic and physical, to say the least. There's a lot of jumping around and fighting and overacting, but what the heck, it's a pirate show and it's for kids. Pip Lustgarten as Captain Freely gives way more than 110%, and I don't know how she can pull off three performances in one day and still have functioning vocal cords and unsprained ankles. Peter Diseth and Jessica Quindlen, as sailors on both the pirate ship and the navy ship (how this is possible is one of the keys to the story), are two of Albuquerque's best actors, and it's enjoyable to see them do unexpected roles like these.

Thane Kenny as the navy man is appropriately more somber than the others on stage, and he has a nice turn near the end of the play. It takes only a few seconds to forget that Kelly O'Keefe is an adult and fully accept him as a boy of eight, which is essential to making this play work. Staci Robbins deserves a hand for finding this play and putting together a fine cast and crew and especially for bringing this show to several schools so that kids can be exposed to the joy of live theater.

And I learned a little bit of history from this show. Did you know that in 1717 and 1718, King George I of England issued a full pardon to any pirates who would surrender and give up their wicked ways? But I wonder how many could accustom themselves to the landlubber life after having been Pirates!

Pirates! by Charles Way is presented by ByWays, Mother Road Theatre Company's New Theatre for Young Audiences. Playing at the Filling Station through February 24, 2013, and at several Albuquerque schools.

--Dean Yannias



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