Arts Listings

The Theater: A Pirate’s Life Takes the Musical Stage

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 16, 2007

“What led me to a life of piracy on the high seas? ... It wasn’t a woman; it was a book!” 


It really is a book, “an old sea journal,” that causes Eliza (Stacy Dulan) and her old salt grandfather-with-a-brogue (Shea R. Williams) to “find themselves transported aboard an 18th century pirate ship, The Sea Hawk,” with grandfather made young again, eyes glittering, as he takes on the persona of Capt. Tom Flint—and Eliza finds herself unhappy in cabin boy garb as “Eli”—among the rough corsairs on deck, under the Jolly Roger, in Starlight Circle Players’ production of Lauren Renee Hotchkiss’ original pirate musical, Deadmen Tell No Tales, at the Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists on Cedar at Bonita (rendezvous point coordinates: N37 52’ 40, 18’’ W122 16’ 21.55’’ according to the program) running next Friday through Sunday. 

Along the way on the voyage, a Spanish ship is taken and almost scuttled (saved by the pleading of a damsel in distress, English consul’s daughter Elizabeth Greyson [Amy Muzingo]); there’s a near-mutiny (over Elizabeth’s charms) and a near walking the plank; a storm at sea with lightning flashing; brawling in a buccaneer’s bar on Tortuga with an order of “Rum and Gunpowder” flambeed at pistol-point; duels with swordfish; a ventriloquist parrot, The Admiral; a treasure map; and two swashbuckling ghosts, one skull-faced, in gauze, the other a full-blooded, hirsute Blackbeard. 

There’re also some nice touches: a budding romance middecks (though the Captain substitutes sea lore for sweet talk over sherry), a comradery (and duet) between Elizabeth and girl pirate Bonny Reed (Celeste Paradise) as they plot landing their intended corsairs, Eliza’s numbers in which she longs to return to the 21st century when “a girl can be a girl,” pacing out the treasure hunt around the audience and a neat role-reversal with the Captain ready for domestication and his would-be spouse caught up with pirate fever and lust of the sea. 

The Unitarian Fellowship has taken on the aspect of the deck and bridge of a ship and writer-composer Lauren Renee Hotchkiss leads a lusty band of guitars (including acoustic bass guitar), fiddles, recorders and drums, with a musical saw and parrot squawkings with a folky sound (there’s a version of “Fifteen Men on a Deadman’s Chest”), the composer taking on the name, in part, of Irish piratess Grainne O’Malley (in the program, everyone, down to bookkeeper “Dominica Lafitte,” is dubbed with a nom de filiboustier) and popping up everywhere in the program, cofounder with Lezlie Kinyon of the troupe and co-director of the show, with Paul Jennings. 

The Starlight Circle Players are a young troupe, brand-new and with their own twist on community theater, apparently committed to producing originals (a new play, by a different author, is due this spring in Oakland). 

They have energy and intend to have fun and take the audience along with them. Sometimes the lines get lost, due in part to the acoustics of the hall and full sound of the band, in part to the inexperience of some of the players (though the roguish crew is mostly in good voice: Martin Linhart as a Pegleg who gets bored and switches legs for his peg sometimes; Michael Fallon, with a deadman’s hand up his sleeve; Jerry Tomlinson; Nils Skudra; Richard Dromgoole and Jonathan Aclan). Besides, this merry crew really expresses itself in the songs, which sometimes seem nonstop. 

Deadmen Tell No Tales is a wry sort of family show, in a way, a block party kind of festivity—if block you live on is, in imagination, Moultrie Island in Charleston Bay, where Edgar Allan Poe set the treasure hunt of “The Gold Bug,” or outlined by the map of Treasure Island, which, according to some, is in the shape of Point Lobos, near Monterey, where Robert Louis Stevenson lived while dreaming up the book. 


Deadmen Tell No Tales 

The Starlight Circle Players 

Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. 

Fri.-Sun. 8 p.m., $10-$25