- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

Interact Theatre Company gives us a summer treat with its "The Pirates of Penzance" — also billed as "The Picaroons of the Potomac" — although the production takes a while to get its first act together.
"Pirates," written in 1879, is one of the best-loved Gilbert and Sullivan scores. At the time, a musical was called a "light opera." It has the absurd misunderstandings, shattered loves and major plot twists common to all kinds of opera.
We meet Frederic (Steve Wilson), our hero, on his 21st birthday, the end of his apprenticeship to the Pirate King (Steven Tipton). It seems that his nursemaid, Ruth (Jane Pesci-Townsend) misheard the pirate leader's occupation, thinking he was a "pilot." No matter — her charge stayed with the pirates for 13 years.
They aren't the mean kind of pirates. They never attack weaker boats, they do no violence to orphans, and they carry a poodle with them.
When he is released, Frederic searches for a woman to marry. He finds the seven daughters of Maj. Gen. Boshington (Andrew Wynn), who are attracted and repulsed by his pirate garb. One of them, Mabel (Kristy Glass), falls in love with the former pirates' mate — just before the gang of pirates arrives to threaten the girls with forcible marriage. Their father is not thrilled by the prospect of his daughters getting hitched to seaborne criminals, so he calls in the local constabulary, headed by Sgt. Pomfrey (Bob McDonald).
It turns out that Frederic isn't free after all. Although his contract of service was to terminate on his 21st birthday, he was born in a leap year. That means he will be 84 years old before he is released. The "slave to duty," as he calls himself, returns to his life of piracy and asks Mabel to remain true to him until he can return in 63 years.
Catherine Flye, the director as well as Interact's artistic director, has set the play in late-18-century Virginia instead of late-19th-century England. Thus, Maj. Gen. Stanley becomes Gen. Boshington, who lives at Vernon Castle in Alexandria. (Get it?) The pirates no longer are from Penzance, but from Potomac. The policemen are turned into militiamen dressed up like British infantrymen, red coats and all.
This does not detract from the play, but it doesn't add much, either. Because the revised script says Frederic is released from his duties in 1860, that means the play is set in 1797. That makes a line from the general's famous "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" into a prediction of the future: "I quote the fights historical/From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical ." Waterloo wasn't fought until 1815.
All right, calm down, maybe that's quibbling. But did Virginia militiamen really dress up like British regulars? And would the general really have a picture of King George III on display?
In the opening scenes, the pirate crew seems overrehearsed and full of false bonhomie. Things pick up considerably once the women arrive (as one might expect), and by the end, the men redeem themselves. Likewise, the women's ensemble gets off to a shaky vocal start, but the voices come together nicely in the later numbers.
Although he suffers under a questionable makeup job, Mr. Wynn's general is the comedic center of the play. Mr. Wynn, who comes very close to being a scene-pirate, gallops to the stage on a stick horse, presenting the general as a foppish patriarch who wears his medals to bed.
Mr. Wilson and Miss Glass, performing with Interact for the first time, make a plausible pair of lovers. Their voices blend perfectly in two affecting and sweet duets near the conclusion.
Miss Glass, with her porcelain skin and graceful movements, looks as if she were created for roles like Mabel. She treats the material with a light touch but takes it seriously enough to make it a thing of beauty. This also is the case with the other performers.
This "Pirates" has some beautiful moments, to be sure. The ending of the second act, "Oh, Men of Dark and Dismal Fate," has some sparkling harmonies. Ditto for the songs in the confrontation between the militia and the pirates. "God Save the King," the penultimate song, made me want to enlist in the British navy.
Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, composing at the British Empire's peak, loved their country but were pleased to take note of its foibles. Thus, "H.M.S. Pinafore" was an extended jest about English notions of aristocracy, and the moral of "Pirates" is that one really should not make a fetish of any single virtue, in this case duty. Interact uses the pair's witty, knowing words and music to fine effect, and Gilbert and Sullivan fans and neophytes alike will be delighted.


WHAT: "The Pirates of Penzance"
WHERE: Folger Theater, 210 East Capitol St. SE
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Sept. 9
TICKETS: $30
PHONE: 703/218-6500
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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