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Open: 05/11/15- Close: 05/31/15 BLOOD RED ROSES: THE FEMALE PIRATE PROJECT
Reviewed for By: Rachel Wohlander

Drama of Works is a multidisciplinary theater company with an eclectic history of productions under its belt. Their latest work, Blood Red Roses, The Female Pirate Project, playfully surveys the adventures of six historical female pirates through a blending of songs, shadow puppets and acting, performed on the creaking wooden decks of a 1914 covered barge that houses Red Hook’s Waterfront Museum.

The Waterfront Museum on the gently rolling LeHigh Valley No. 79 (and its impressive clanking, gonging, chiming, squeaking Rube Goldberg machine designed by sculptor George Rhoads, on view permanently at the museum) is a welcoming hideaway, and sets the maritime scene for Blood Red Roses. The production is created, written and designed collaboratively by the ensemble of performers including Joseph Garner, Emily Hartford, Scott Weber, Meghan Maureen Williams and Director/Performer/Puppeteer Gretchen Van Lente, who make clever use of the Barge’s architecture for their puppetry. Lit only by their handheld flashlights, performers create animation-like shadow puppet effects on three sail-looking surfaces. Ships roll, castles loom on distant shores, battles ensue, and the shadows of cutouts converse with the silhouettes of live actors. Through smooth transitions between the actors taking on the roles then passing the scene on to their shadow puppet counterparts, we learn tidbits of the lives of a handful of adventurous, brave women who chose a life of piracy.  


            The play is divided into five parts, each highlighting a different heroine. The cast takes us from 1330’s France for a story of revenge, then to Ireland in the mid-1500s for a tale of honor, to the 17th Century West Indies for an uncanny depiction of escape and survival, then to China to tell of a desire for power in the 1800s and finally landing with a 19th Century New York City girl who has a taste for adventure. Transitions are smoothed with 12 traditional songs sung by the cast, with lyrics slightly modified to help tell the stories (music direction by Amy Carrigan).

            The many moving parts are maneuvered confidently by the players and the elaborately staged puppets are projected on multiple surfaces simultaneously. The puppeteering and costume changes happen before our eyes (costume design by Emily Blumenauer), blurring the lines between mechanics and performance. The result is a panoramic plethora of story-telling devices. Especially well conceived are shadow puppet crowd scenes, complete with comedic voiceover and live foley sound effects.  A scene where paper dolls double as shadow puppets highlights the performers’ subtle attentiveness to their fellow players, both puppet and person.

            The piece might be wonderful for children but for a sprinkling of swear words and perhaps an issue of pacing, which will surely tighten as the run continues. I found myself hoping for less of a cartoon survey and more in-depth story-telling, and I wonder what the piece would be like if they pared it down to fewer female pirates and focused more intimately and intricately on the life of maybe just one or two. Any of the ladies featured seemed ample material for a whole play. In packing in so many stories, a few of the more interesting details were lost in the shuffle. In its current form, lovers of puppets and piracy will have plenty to feast upon, and I applaud the company for unearthing the tales of these often looked-over female buccaneers. The performance certainly captures and inspires a spirit of adventure and audacity that never goes out of style.  You can catch these swashbucklers Friday through Sunday until May 31 at 209 Conover Street, doors at 7:45pm, then after the show, stop by Sunny’s Bar down the street for some rum. 

Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge : 290 Conover Street at Pier 44