Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Pen/Man/Ship" ☼ ☼

Charles faces us, glowering, as the lights come up at the opening of Christina Anderson's Pen/Man/Ship. Played with force by Adrian Roberts, Charles is the center of this confounding play which begins with an intriguing concept: a sailing ship, populated and captained by black Americans, is crossing back across the Atlantic in the year 1896, heading to Liberia for purposes that will be shown to be, at best, of questionable morality.

We are clearly meant to see Charles as Ahab, chasing his too-powerful adversary, which is acceptance. Charles's peg leg is his alcoholism. He sees himself as a noble and powerful leader, a man who has succeeded primarily by the force of his will. His son Jacob (Eddie Ray Jackson) does not see his father in this light.

Jacob is probably gay, spends his time drawing images of the deckhands on the ship, and has a love/hate relationship with his tyrannical father. Jacob has befriended Ruby (Tangela Large), who is sick of her second class citizenship in America and anxious to return to the motherland.

The most down-home character on the ship is Cecil, who is given an honest and quite accessible performance by Tyee Tilghman. Cecil is befriended by Charles. It is through their relationship that we see that class, not race, is what matters upon this ship.

Although this might be a million dollar idea in different hands, we find the script to have more holes than a torpedoed whaling ship. Why would a Nineteenth Century male seafaring crew elect a woman with no knowledge of the sea to be their leader? What really happened during the confrontation between Charles and Monty, the unfortunate deck-hand? Why would Charles's hold over Jacob be so severe, given that Jacob understands his father drinks a bottle of gin a night? And why in the world would the crew take an action that could lead to their own deaths, the only purpose of which was to make Charles talk to them?

And why, oh why, would the man whose accordion is said to be his life, appear not to know how to play it? I mean, really?

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Pen/Man/Ship" Two Stars. This is below the recommended Julie Andrews Line (see explanation in Side Bar). This show has received good reviews already, however, so you may want to see for yourselves.

The Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Through June 15

No comments: