Monday, November 6, 2017

The Privateer at Transatlantic Love Affair

With the new production, The Privateer, playing at the Illusion Theater through November 18, Transatlantic Love Affair once again presents an epic tale at a very human scale.

The performers use just their bodies and voices to create the characters and their environments. Music, composed and performed by Dustin Tessler, and lights, designed by Michael Wangen, add to the atmosphere, although the focus is always on the acting ensemble.

Pirates have always been a fascinating component of popular culture, even though the actual time period in which most of the stories take place was very short. Loosely based on a true story, The Privateer tells of a wealthy man obsessed with stories of pirates who decides to take to the high seas. He knows nothing of sailing or real-life pirates, but he has money to buy a boat and hire a crew, and that is enough to cause a world of trouble for everyone involved.

L-R: John Stephens, Antonio Duke, Heather Bunch, Nora MontaƱez,
China Brickley, Allison Witham, and Eric Marinus. Photo: Lauren B Photography.
In 1717 New York colony, this clueless dandy decides to become a privateer, even after his request for permission to work as an agent of the British government is denied. It's difficult to build a story around an unsympathetic character, but Heather Bunch does a good job of making the character more oblivious than malicious. His standoffish relationship with his fluttering wife, disregard of his loyal servants, and overwhelming sense of entitlement seemed spot-on. (I'll admit that I may have been primed for her portrayal of this over-the-top dandy by all the historical romances I've been reading lately.)

As always, the ensemble is wonderful, and TLA core company member Derek Lee Miller, who conceived and directed the piece, creates the feeling of being aboard a ship and presents some wonderful set pieces of battles at sea. There were a few times when it wasn't clear where the action was happening, but for the most part, the performers seamlessly transition from enacting the privateer's crew to forming parts of the ship to playing rival pirates. Allison Witham does a terrific job as a disgruntled sailor, famed pirate Blackbeard, and even a mule. China Brickey is first funny as the fluttering wife, and then touching as the man of business charged with running the ship.

At 90 minutes without intermission, the show felt a little long, given that Bunch's character never seems to learn or adapt, although the rest of the crew certainly do. The Privateer isn't magical in the way of TLA shows like Ash Land or The Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, but it tells a unique story in a new setting, and it's always amazing to see this group build a world onstage. Compared to TLA, traditional theater seems staid and stale, so their shows are always worth seeing.