Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Performs: Damned If You Do
This staging, by the visiting companies The Hypocrites and the House Theatre of Chicago, turns the intimate black box into a truly immersive and interactive space. While some assigned seats are available, audience members are invited to jump into a large round tub filled with pillows, sit on top of an onstage bed, or climb a slide to become part of the action (scenic design by Tom Burch).
Around and among the audience members taking in what the company calls the "promenade experience," 10 actors of boundless energy (and an ability to think on their feet) perform an abbreviated version of the classic 1878 operawhile accompanying themselves on instruments including mandolin, ukulele, accordion, guitar, violin, banjo, flute, and toy piano.
Director and adapter Sean Graney has reimagined the story as a children's party acted by adults; the cast members wear variations of mismatched pajamas (designed by Alison Siple) and collars showing their character names. And then there's the whole gender-swap concept.
In this version, the crew of H.M.S. Pinafore are "sailoresses" commanded by Captain Cat Corran (Tina Muñoz Pandya), who cares as much about the quality of music performed on board as nautical skillsat one point she warns a crew member about "playing ominous music on the ship." The captain's dreamy son Joseph (Mario Aivazian) loses his heart to lowborn crew-woman Ralphina Rackstraw (Dana Saleh Omar); his mother, meanwhile, is trying to arrange a match between Joseph and the proud Admiral Dame JoAnne Porter (Lauren Vogel). Cheerful, bearded Buttercup (Matt Kahler) yearns for Captain Cat, while crew-member Dot Dead-Eye (Aja Wiltshire) tries to make trouble.
Familiarity with the original work is not necessary, but it can help to note some of the adapters' felicitous revisions of Gilbert's lyrics. (While Sir Joseph Porter in the original is surrounded by adoring sisters, cousins, and aunts, Dame JoAnne is attended by "her brothers and her cousins and her kin.") The whole performance runs 80 minutes, including a one-minute(!) intermission, but snacks and drinks are available at all times.
This cast will perform H.M.S. Pinafore in rotating repertory with its similarly antic version of The Pirates of Penzance.
Olney Theatre Center