note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Lynn Heinemann
Vagabond Theatre Group
Boston Center for the Arts Black Box Theater (Seen July 13, 2011)
In addition to being an actor and Director of Development with Vagabond Theatre Group, playwright Zach Winston is a tour guide at the New England Pirate Museum. Drawing upon both the history and lore of 18th century pirates, in "Unfortunate Cutthroats," he's concocted a tale of questionable honor and loyalty, jealousy, rivalry, and the deprivation and depravity and despondence that can occur on long voyages.
Is the Bible-spouting Captain Edward Drake with his provisions of food, a savior for the starving pirates on the Steadfast? Or, is this Captain Lefty -- so-called because of the loss of his right arm, leg and eye -- an enemy to fear as the long-time nemesis of the Steadfast's Captain Charlie McCarthy?
The tone of the three-act play veers from the very grim (shooting a man's brains out), to screwy comedic effects of sweeping up his brains (one bit of red sponge).
Should we cower at the fearsome Captain McCarthy, who shares a character trait shown by Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" and Leo Bloom in "The Producers," even when he retreats to the lower levels of the ship to find consolation fondling his bit blue blankey?
Should we be frightened by the blunderbusses that are drawn, cocked, and shot (with minimal sound effects), or should we giggle at the pirates' assertion that they prefer the term "sea robbers"?
Captain Lefty and his band of cutthroats are accompanied by Sadie, the captain's daughter, who's made it her mission to teach Marcus, the Steadfast's cabin boy how to read, using the Bible as her textbook.
Marcus is far more interested in playing chess, a game he learned in the workhouse but had never had a chance to play. Just as her father maintains the upper hand in taking over the Steadfast, Sadie maintains the upper hand with Marcus, not only beating him at chess, but also beating and torturing him into continuing the Bible lessons.
Unfortunately, the convoluted plot advances slowly, the 3+ hours punctuated mainly by acts of violence as the crewmen from two ships mistrust not only the ship's intruders, but also their own shipmates. Much of the exposition comes as Captain McCarthy sits alone on stage with his blanket and speaks lovingly -- to his ship.
As Marcus, the Steadfast's cabin boy asserts after the betrayals and subterfuges have been revealed, "I can't say it's all been explained, but I don't expect it matters... I'm getting tired."