Last Saturday several friends and I journeyed to Six Flags America, located in Upper Marlboro. As you know, the Six Flags advertisements assert that, as their parks' names invoke no fewer than six flags, the content of said parks is, accordingly, more fun. Generally speaking, the "more flags, more fun" proposition holds true, although during the course of the day my own experiences ranged from the full six flags (e.g., the Superman: Ride of Steel roller coaster, wherein the gentleman behind me sang The Star Spangled banner because his "nuts hurt") down to a mere one flag (e.g., getting kicked out of the wave pool at Hurricane Harbor en masse; the popcorn chicken meal; waiting in line for 15 minutes to pay for the popcorn chicken meal whilst the cashier wandered off to get a glass of lemonade).
Although I had expected to experience roller coasters, water slides, and screaming, ill-mannered children, I was unaware that the park also offered theatrical productions. Having once spent a decade studying theatre, I feel it is my solemn duty to provide a serious assessment of "A Pirate's Tale," the one show my party and I took in.
One might expect that the venue for "A Pirate's Tale" would be located in Skull Island, the pirate-themed area of the park. Not so. Instead, the venue stands in Coyote Creek, the cowboy-and-western-themed region. Were this pirate-cowboy conflation a mere matter of geography, it would be forgivable; unfortunately, this blurring of the boundary between "ARRR" and "YEE-HAW" extended to the production's set. Of the seven or so structures that comprised the set, all were easily identifiable as stock western buildings whose signs had simply been changed to sound more piratical. Thus, for instance, what was clearly a saloon had been converted to a crab leg store; the former blacksmith shop merely had a banner reading "grand opening" draped in front of its old sign; the barn and old mine did not appear to have been relabeled at all (admittedly, however, from my vantage point I could not read the sign on the old mine). The only thing about the set that suggested piracy was the pirate ship located stage left, which, it must be conceded, was something of a dead giveaway regarding the show's content.
Although the set perhaps failed to establish a high seas sort of atmosphere, I still had high hopes for the script itself. The depiction of piracy on stage has a long and distinguished history. Indeed, Hamlet, that pinnacle of tragedy, involves piracy (albeit offstage), as does Pirates of Penzance, among the finest of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas. Sadly, the plot of "A Pirate's Tale" was, at best, baffling. The main thrust of the story is that Captain Claw, a pirate, invades Port Privy in an effort to disrupt the grand opening of a new hotel. Thanks to the incompetence of Claw's only crew member, the hijinks of Port Privy's governor, and the swordsmanship of the only other resident of the town, the invasion is repulsed. And then the old mine explodes.
During the intervening 15 minutes, slapstick humor abounds (with a breathtaking variety of pratfalls featured prominently) as does swordplay and other assorted stuntwork. The play's cast members clearly were all well versed in tumbling and fencing, as well as in hitting each other. In terms of acting technique, however, the cast appeared unpolished. Instead of striving for realism via the techniques of Stanislavsky, Adler, or even Strasburg, the actors opted for larger-than-life bluster. Whether due to poor direction or the actors' own initiative, I found that this style of acting did nothing to convey a true sense of what piracy must be like. These actors certainly did not become pirates. They did not act; they indicated. Surely Sandy Meisner was spinning in his grave.
The actual casting choices were fascinating, and suggest that although the show's execution was poor, the concept animating the production was intellectually vibrant. Both of the actors portraying the pirates were white; those playing the townspeople were African-American. This suggests that perhaps much more was at work than stunts and sight gags; perhaps this was a comment on imperialism, described by Lenin as the highest stage of capitalism. Is not capitalism itself a form of piracy? Perhaps so, perhaps not; in any event, "A Pirate's Tale" challenges the children in the audience to confront that question.
Then again, maybe the casting was just a coincidence and I spent too much time in critical theory classes in graduate school.
Out of a possible six flags, "A Pirate's Tale" deserves four, because it was a nice opportunity to sit and partially digest that awful popcorn chicken.