BWW Reviews: Hypocrites' PENZANCE a Party Onstage at Actors Theatre
From the moment a beach ball hit me in the face to the double-curtain call standing ovation, Actors Theatre's current production of "The Pirates of Penzance" was the most fun I've had at the theatre in a long time.
They - along with Rubber Duckies, sunglasses and 20 minutes of pre-show pop music sing-along - are par for the course in this reimagining by Chicago's award-winning theatre troupe, The Hypocrites. Director Sean Graney has pared the grand cast down to 10 able actors and traditional orchestration has been streamlined to guitars, ukulele, concertina, clarinet and percussive Igloo cooler. Seriously. The play itself is a freewheeling 80 minutes with a one-minute intermission.
For the unfamilar, "Penzance" is a comic opera that plays with the notions of romance and duty with a capital "D," "U," "T" and "Y," spelled out in grand serif billboard lettering to which the actors ... well, if there is a term that combines "genuflect" and "gesticulate," I don't know what it is, but it's what they do ... at every mention of the word.
The plot in brief: the innocent Frederic has reached the end of his apprenticeship to a band of goodhearted pirates. His only knowledge of the fairer sex being the pirates' unsightly maid, Ruth, Frederic happens upon Mabel, daughter of Major General Stanley, and they fall swiftly in love. However, a quirk in his apprenticeship requires Frederic to return to his servitude, and a betrayal of honor pits the Major General against the pirates. It's grand, dashing and in The Hypocrites' hands, utterly and wonderfully ridiculous.
This is definitely a different kind of theatre experience: interactive, hyperactive and, for some, even overwhelming. Some of the older faces in the audience didn't seem to quite know what to make of the rambunctiousness. Others seemed to be having the time of their life.
If you're the type who races for the front of the roller coaster, aim for a seat on the floor. Over the course of the show, you'll be whisked from folding chairs to boat dock to bench to picnic table as the troupe makes you quite literally a part of the show (just stay on your toes). If you're more the retiring type who likes to take in the whole affair, sit toward the top of the Bingham Theatre. Perhaps near the bar. Seriously.
It's the highest compliment to the collective cast that they incorporate the audience as they do while keeping the show precisely on track. Any night, any one person can do anything to change the flow, but the actors never allow a single hiccup into the proceedings. While it would be a crime to single out any performer from this tight ensemble, the power and purity of Christine Stulik's voice amid the utter zaniness of her dual portrayals of Ruth and Mabel is indicative of the entire cast's marrying of the ridiculous and the sublime.
The Hypocrites manage an incredible feat in taking a cherished classic in a totally different direction that also celebrates the timelessness of a wonderful piece of theatre. Don't miss this.
Presented by Actors Theatre in association with The Hypocrites
Through February 4
At Actors Theatre, 316 West Main St.
Tickets and showtimes available at www.actorstheatre.org.