Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Garden Grove’s Strawberry Bowl Theatre was built-in 1979 and has provided a variety of programming: band shows, comedy skits, and movie nights. Most notable however are their Shakespearean plays, which Shakespeare Orange County performs, typically with fervor and quality costumes. Now they are breaking new ground with their first non-Shakespearean play (fine, musical), the Gilbert and Sullivan favorite Pirates of Penzance. Based on what could be heard the acting and singing ability are definitely on full display. To get the full picture across I will point out that I saw the preview night performance. As such there were visible kinks to work out. I can’t ignore the blatant issues, but if they intended to hook up the speakers before their real run then the problem may have already been fixed. But therein lies the problem–audio. Despite setting up chairs on the stage to form closed in quarters, the microphones do very little to pick up sound. The soloists are all but inaudible. In spite of this obvious problem the delightful chorus and enthusiastic acting communicate the story effectively.
Due to his nurse Ruth setting up a faulty apprenticeship for him, Frederic has spent his childhood training in the company of the most honorable Pirate King and crew you ever saw. He is free to go his own way when he turns twenty-one, and he sets out with Ruth to find civilization. Once he’s ashore, he meets a fair maiden named Mabel and her lovely sisters. Straightaway he and Mabel fall in love, but when the Pirate King uses a technicality to prove Frederic is still bound to the crew, all hope for freedom appears to be lost.
As previously stated, the chairs are placed close together upon the actual stage. I find the seating arrangements for Pirates of Penzance to be a refreshing change from just sitting in the theatre. Ascending the steps to the actual stage gives a special feeling of inclusion that doesn’t come around often in stage productions –not even in black box theaters. The cast takes advantage of the proximity by including a lot of audience interaction. We’re talking handshakes, dialogue and hugs. It’s quite clear they are going out of their way to engage the children in the audience.
Despite popular opinion, good costumes are not easy to find. However, the Strawberry Bowl Theatre has yet to disappointed me in this category. The cast are decked out from head to toe in brash pirate attire and fair night dresses. Even if every costume is not strictly period appropriate, they never fail to get the message of the moment across to the viewers.
There are no weak links to be found here. Every actor is strong and “in the moment.” The Vocal Highlight of the Night Award goes to Jenaha McLearn in the role Mabel. Because of the flawed sound system it seems most of the soloists are struggling to be heard. Many of them have to shout in order to be audible. This causes us to miss a lot of the humor built into the lyrics. And yet it would be a mistake to assume vital plot points are missed because of these challenges because the ensemble repeats a good number of words said by the main characters. This way they emphasize vital parts of the story. Meanwhile we are approximately twelve feet from the actors at any given time, and they are abundantly clear with their expressions. The good acting ensures we understand everything that is going on. However, the solos are not few and far between, and it would make for a funnier evening if we could understand the jokes the first time when they’re sung.
Plays Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm. NOTE EARLY CURTAIN TIME!
Closes September 26.
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