Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: A New Kind of Pirate Adventure

Playing pretend is fun. But what's better than playing pretend while playing pretend? In Heart of Oak by Laura Hirschberg, a princess hijacks her ship and makes her launders and cooks become her crew. As their adventure is underway, the motley crew turns into pirates and the game no longer becomes fun.
Inspired by the Scandinavian legend of a ship of women, Heart of Oak follows Princess Alvida as she flees from social norms and the impending marriage to Prince Alfred. Alvida’s mates are her workers, all eager to go on an adventure until Captain-Princess Alvida’s power trip threatens the lives and stability of their ship, Heart of Oak. To set the scene, Hirschberg employs the dashing Prince Alfred to serve as a narrator of sorts. It helps establish his existence rather than blindsiding the audience when he does enter into action. His monologues are poetic and quite captivating, which goes against the more modern tongue of Alvida and her crew. On board the Heart of Oak, Hirschberg has a few key players including Johanna, the first mate, her sister Eva, and Liv, the rebel. The remaining few play very minor parts in the piece and the ship, serving mostly to add beautiful harmony. Since they don’t have much of an arc, combining characters may be useful to make the characters more complete. The heart of Heart of Oak comes through the fascinating thesis Hirschberg sets out to examine. Hirschberg allows the story to be the primary attraction, allowing the audience to develop their own opinions. By the end when the women do question their roles and identities, Hirschberg cleverly ties everything together. The final scene may be the strongest in the entire piece. There are missing pieces to the story puzzle but perhaps outside the constraints of a festival, Hirschberg can develop the script further.
photo courtesy of Kyle Rosenberg
This play is about strong and independent women on a journey. Ironically, the strongest player was the lone male, Jacob Owen. Owen is charming and the epitome of a prince. He could possibly even pass for a Disney prince. His urgency for his quest was playful and fun to watch. A Prince Alfred spinoff may be an exciting story to explore. Mariah Freda as Johanna was the strongest gal on the ship. Freda’s struggle for morality and the battle of love was stunning to watch. The Alvida and Johanna sexual tension was unexpected but an absolutely superb plot line that wants to be increased. Leslie Gauther as Captain-Princess Alvida lacked command but it's possible her character was only playing pretend. Her presence was small despite the ferocity of her character.
The true captain of this high seas adventure was director Anais Koivisto who steered the ship through the rough terrain that is the Kraine Theater. Transforming the space into the Heart of Oak is not an easy task but through simple ropes and fabric, and a little bit of imagination, the boat came to life. With a large ensemble and a truncated stage, there were occasional spacing issues but the creation of the cells below deck was an incredible highpoint.  The sea shanties that the women do sing fill the stage, enhancing the world and evoking the spirit of sea life. As beautiful as they were, there were moments where the ensemble overpowered key dialogue. The struggle of believability of location and the space weighed into these slight problematic moments. The Kraine is a sound eater of dialogue so facing the audience is a must.
With an interesting thesis of gender roles and freedom, Heart of Oak is a fantastic piece to set sail with. Minor tweaks can bring it to the great potential it has. This surely won’t be the last adventure Hirschberg’s script will take.