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Seventeenth-Century Pirates in Pasadena

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Vonessa Martin, James C. Leary and Katie Davies

The Furious Theatre Company is the luckiest little ensemble in town, having snagged a residency at the Pasadena Playhouse's balcony theatre at a time when companies are losing their spaces left and right. They've adventurously chosen to use their good fortune to explore a risky undertaking: a new adaptation and re-staging of seventeenth-century dramatist Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I & II. We saw the Fair Maid last Sunday night, in a long, narrow theatre with ropes and rigging draping from the sides, and she's Furious, all right - furiously swashbuckling. Here be pirates.

Bess Bridges (Vonessa Martin) is the prettiest platinum blond barmaid in 1600s England, and Mr. Spencer (Shawn Lee) loves no other. The trouble is, of course, to test her virtue, and test it they do, through an elaborate series of stratagems. Gallants and buffoons duel like squirrels in the street. They fight over (and under) Bess with a lot of sword-brandishing, but she remains spotless. When Bess thinks Spencer is dead, she makes his best friend Captain Goodlack (a lusty James C. Leary) buy a ship, paint it all in black, and go on a doomed voyage to recover his body.

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Of course, Spencer isn't dead. After the intermission, they all end up shipwrecked on an island that Odysseus missed on his Cruise of Dangerous Small Bodies of Land. It's the island of the Pirate King and Queen (Richard Hilton & Kristy Nolen) and before these bar-crossed lovers can escape, they'll have to appease the royal couple's libido. Do they? Will they? Well, that's part of the excitement. This is an adaptation of a play that is close to Shakespeare's time but not written by him. It let us appreciate a period we all idolize, but we don't know how the plot's going to turn out. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, we're actually in some doubt about whether or not the Pirate King is going to ravish fair Bess.