Naught But Pirates
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
March 9, 2007
I must advise right off the bat that while at least one pirate (depending on how you define the word) appears in this play, there is absolutely no swashbuckling. Nor does Naught But Pirates, written by and starring the engaging Sean Owens, include any of the normal pirate accoutrements: no swords, no parrot… no peg leg. In addition, the aforementioned pirate, subtly named Black Dick, is portrayed very differently than I expected.
The play is divided into three parts, each told from the perspective of a character closely involved with Black Dick. Owens makes the transition between the three characters seamlessly, and it is enjoyable to watch him sink into each of these meaty roles. The first character is a misanthropic and obscure writer who claims to be the authority on Black Dick despite the joke that the audience, and probably most of the world, knows little if anything about this writer or his subject. At first soliloquizing about his attempts to essentially "become" the legendary pirate, down to wearing the same velvet jacket and the same gold vest, the plot quickly thickens when it turns out the writer is not addressing the audience but rather his captive, a would-be rock star claiming or at least longing to be the descendent of Black Dick's first mate.
The rock star carries a dark secret he plans to share, thereby ruining the writer's reputation and blowing the tightly-sealed lid off our perceptions of piracy in general. Said secret can be found in an obscure manuscript known as "Naught But Pirates" (hence the title of the show). Eventually the captor becomes the captive as the rock star turns multiple tables on the writer.
The third character is good ole' Black Dick himself. Owens's pirate is charming and refined, despite advising us that he recently bit off someone's ear. Of the three characters, Dick is the one I'd most likely invite out for a drink. Dick essentially confirms the authenticity of the rock star's secret and does a little table-turning himself as he plots to escape prison and execution, leaving the audience to speculate about his death and question even further the writer's version of Black Dick's legacy.
Although tagged as a comedy, Naught But Pirates is essentially a drama. While listening to the writer go on about himself is very funny, the rock star's ulterior motives and Black Dick's heartfelt commentary take the piece in entirely different directions. The piece is extremely well written and superbly acted, which to me made up for the lack of swords, parrots and peg legs. The director, Kenny Shults, seems comfortable with providing Owens with basic staging and letting him sail with his impulses, a perfect sentiment given this is a one-man show. This is not to discredit Shults—in fact, it demonstrates a level of trust and professionalism.
The score, provided by Don Seaver, works much in the same way. His music sets the mood for the tale and each of its characters without being intrusive or directing our attention away from it.