Sex-deprived women passionately stuffing men’s heads between their breasts is the first indication that a show is about to turn into a prepubescent boy’s ultimate fantasy. Add a raucous birthday party teeming with drunken pirates and the protagonist’s shameless superficiality and objectification of women (while still coming out the hero!), and it’s official: “The Pirates of Penzance” could very well have been dreamt up by an eighth grader.
But who’s to say that’s a bad thing?
“The Pirates of Penzance” — a British comical opera and one of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s most famous works — has been entertaining audiences with its frivolity, absurd characters and quick-witted banter for almost 130 years. Laughter and amusement are the opera’s only serious goals. In this production of “Pirates,” these goals are dutifully maintained and, for the most part, achieved by co-directors Isaac Durand ’10 and Stan Seiden ’10 and Yale’s chapter of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
The show’s opening scene features Frederic (Joel Pattison ’09), a pirate’s apprentice-by-accident (Ruth, his former nursemaid, now 47-year-old lady friend, misheard his father’s dying words and apprenticed the boy to a “pirate” rather than a ship’s “pilot”), on the eve of his 21st birthday. Since the night will mark the end of his apprenticeship, Frederic has finally earned the right to become a full-fledged pirate. But instead, with a song and plenty of smiles, he divulges to his comrades over a few drinks that, come midnight, he’ll be making it his goal to “exterminate” all of them. Furthermore, he declares, he will be ditching Ruth (Rachel Cohen ’09) in favor of whichever random, more beautiful girl he happens to run into along the way.
Naturally, he runs into not one but six younger, attractive girls, one of whom is willing to engage in a hearty make-out session less than five minutes after they’ve met. But when Frederic learns from his former comrades that the condition for his release is the reaching of his 21st birthday — not his 21st year — a problem is posed: Frederic was born on February 29th and, technically, only five of his birthdays have passed.
Although mildly entertaining for the majority of the first act, it isn’t until the entrance of the girls’ father, Major General Stanley (Nathaniel Granor ’08), that the show becomes more than a vaguely interesting string of somewhat uncompelling characters and odd occurrences. Striding onstage and abruptly cutting into the other characters’ song, the general suddenly generates a series of conflicts slightly less shallow than, for instance, the sisters’ dilemma over whether they should talk about the weather or watch as Frederic and Mabel (Christina Avellan ’10) rip off each other’s clothes instead.
The character of Ruth, however, proves herself to be one of the production’s most problematic aspects. Evidently a prominent character, she is frequently seen falling onto her knees, clinging to Frederic’s leg and begging him to stay with her and become a pirate. However, together with saucy facial expressions and her status as the most frequent head-into-breasts-stuffing culprit, Ruth seems to be torn between a very desperate housewife and a raunchy wench — establishing her as, at best, a confusingly ambiguous character. The flaws in her portrayal, however, are easily compensated for by the wit and humor of the opera itself — turning even the trek up to the Med School a swashbuckling adventure worth taking.