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BWW Review: Theater RED's Enthralling BONNY ANNE BONNY Rules the High Seas in World Premiere

Photo Credit: Traveling Lemur Productions

In an on-stage adventure that will thrill any secret buccaneer, Theater RED world premieres Bonny Anne Bonny in collaboration with the Department of Theatre at Milwaukee's Wisconsin Lutheran College's (WLC). Set in the WLC Performing Arts Center's Raabe Theatre, WLC students along with Director Christopher Elst steer Liz Shipe's swashbuckling tale into one very enthralling version of 18th century Irish pirate Anne Bonny's life. Theater RED's world premiere production takes the audience's breath away when the cast ascends swaying ladders, swings on ropes across the stage and flashes their sword play while these men and women "pirates" cast about for a new ship to find plundered treasures.

An evening at Bonny Anne Bonny reaps entertainment rewards and theatrical treasures---Elst and his producer partner, Marcee Doherty-Elst captured a powerful team working with local Milwaukee Playwright Liz Shipe in presenting this exceptional fictional account of the famous Anne Bonny. A beautiful woman uncomfortable with the status quo in her era and those traditional life choices available for any woman in this period, Bonny set sail to become a fearless and sometimes ruthless pirate. Over time, her fame grew and Bonny joined forces with another legendary woman pirate, Mary Read; the two women renowned in pirate history as "Queens of the High Seas."

Shipe retells a fictionalized version of Bonny's life in her completely unromantic script, where Anne Bonny's adventures harbor a cargo of complex emotions and relationships to complement her fierce piracy. Fight Choreographer Elst gives his audience authentic action in this production because as Bonny says, "life has its consequences...with so many shadows and hazes over the horizon," which appear with regularity in the play. Shipe doubles as an actor, an outstanding 'Heartless' Jane Bristow and costume designer, and throughout the evening displays her multi-faceted talents.

A convincing Alicia Rice carries the substantial portrayal of the notorious Anne Bonny, a woman embodying boldness with bravado and then needs to bask in the partnership with her husband, "Calico" Jack Rodham-a charming, if wily, Zach Thomas Woods. The pair tussle in love/hate and gender inequality, Jack constantly in the shadow of his wife's superior ability to captain a ship, a quality which twists the play's edgy ending

In the role of Bonny's cohort, Mary Read, Rae Elizabeth Paré complements Bonny's ego and reputation with her compassion and confidence--while also mounting those rope ladders with amazing grace. Paré and Rice form a perilous camaraderie, half from respect, half from need, and the rest bonding while being two women in roles where they bear "blood on their hands." Their brazen attempts navigate journeys in a man's world on a pirate ship because people, and the men, believe "it's against the natural order to be led by a woman."

Dries DeVos (Iron Jenny), Jennifer Gluckstein (Jennifer Bramble), Macie Laylan ( A lithe aerialist Magpie), and Jessica Schulz (Lila) create a worthy crew supporting Rice and Paré. These courageous strong women characters take risks in their lives, with surprising results. Not to be outdone, Shipe delivers interesting male roles to challenge her women heroines:. James Carrington plays a dignified Blackbeard, supposedly in love with the right hand women who helped him command his ship. Bonny herself.

The fiery Spanish Alonzo de Corazon flames with passion in Sean Duncan and British Captain Presley receives his due comeuppance through Thomas Sebald. While Brian Quinn adds warmth to his character, the former pirate cook Josiah "Biscuit" Addams, this absolutely wonderful cast, 19 in all, flies and swings aboard a realistic pirate ship conceived by Scenic Designer Christopher Kurtz. The multi-leveled set, which makes the action fascinating to watch, catches personal scenes designated by Elst when he spotlights the intimacy under direction from Lighting Designer Aaron Siegmann.

Elst and Shipe aptly portray the realities of pirate life, for women or men, when Biscuit decides one voyage is enough for him... He leaves the ship when finally anchored on land, once again alive and safe, as he explains, "You grow close to people only to lose them, to storms, ports and time..."

Crew members were lost at sea, in battles, to sickness, and when they left to create homes and lives in port... Shipe portrays these women pirates as complex individuals: friends, legends, wives, woman, humans barring conflicted emotions and motives in these choices Bonny relates to her young friend, Lila: "This is a hard way to live and a terrible way to die....the world creates a fiction because reality is too messy."

In the aftermath of Theater RED"s extraordinary production, the audience can consider what the realities might be for women living in any man's world...the fiction as opposed to the facts..the truths against the legends...Anne Bonny defied a woman's expectations in her historical context, and Shipe captured the dilemmas and dichotomy of reality then, which may sometimes be required of women today when working in a man's world. One only hopes that Shipe and Theater RED will continue future collaborations so more of their exceptional professional productions again thrill Milwaukee audiences.

Theater RED presents Liz Shipe's World Premiere Bonny Anne Bonny at Wisconsin Lutheran College through November 12. For performance schedule and tickets, please visit: www.theaterred.com.


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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan