Perfectly Charming Air Ship “Pirates of Penzance”

Presented by The MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players
Libretto by W.S. Gilbert
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Produced and Directed by Emma Brown
Orchestra Directed by Johnnie Han

December 2-10, 2016
La Sala de Puerto Rico
Cambridge, MA
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Review by Gillian Daniels

(Cambridge, MA) What is happiness? “Steampunk pirate opera” is an excellent answer.

This year, the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players opted for a pleasing, energetic performance of one of the best operettas of all time. The warmth and enthusiasm on display is heartening.

For those not familiar with the libretto, Frederic (Tim Ayres-Kerr) is a naive foundling who, due to a mix-up caused by his nursemaid, Ruth (Anna-Constantia Richardson), has spent his formative years apprenticed to pirates. Now that he has fulfilled his time of service to them, he has vowed, apologetically, to hunt down his former allies, including the gender-swapped Pirate Queen (Elyssa Bjorkman), but not before finding a bride. He’s a young man who believes in duty but, yes, does have certain priorities.

One of the few challenges I found with this production is hearing all of it. Done in the round, even when the loudest of the principals faced the opposite direction to where I was sitting, I struggled to hear individual words. The theater was not the best when it came to acoustics. This is troubling when seeing opera, as you might imagine.

Yet, what I did hear was so very good. Meghan Jolliffe was a passionate, wonderful Mabel, and Mike DeFillippi was a hilarious Major-General Stanley.

The comic timing was perfect. Over a hundred years later and some so-called paradoxes are still hilarious.

Some of the gender changing highlights the gender politics on display. As with many modern productions, Ruth is given a more liberated spin by the show’s end. I enjoyed her depiction from air ship scullery maid to in-charge pirate very much.

Three years ago, I saw the Hypocrites’ production of the same show. It was hip, fun, and enormously engrossing. The steampunk element of this particular show is a neat aesthetic, but doesn’t have as much influence over the style as the Hypocrites’ whimsy did. No, this is still very much a traditional Gilbert and Sullivan, regardless of the presence of gears painted on faces. “Tradition” can be a fine thing, though, and seeing the production was a welcome escape.

Queen’s Note:
We have elected a tangerine ass-bugle bigot with scrawny hands, thin skin, and terrible hair to the office of the President. The theatre community has every reason to be scared that the national budget for the arts will be slashed. It will be. Certain republicans tend to disrespect experimental, avant-garde, or simply new art. If it challenges the white, straight, hetero status quo, they tend to be against it. New things frighten them with their difference. For the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating your art despite this painful bullshit. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. Please keep fighting the good fight. – KD

#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter #NODAPL

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