REVIEW: Mauckingbird Theatre’s The Pirates of Penzance Is a Queer Swashbuckler

The gender binary is an illusion in this refreshing adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterpiece.

The cast of Pirates of Penzance. Photo by John Flak.

The cast of “Pirates of Penzance.” Photo by John Flak.

It’s hard to produce an entertaining pirate play in 2016, and even more difficult to pull off a remake. But Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s latest production is an effortless queer revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic The Pirates of Penzance.

I should have expected this: The group, which has built its reputation on retelling popular stories through an LGBTQ lens, has not disappointed me yet. In this version, Young Frederic, played by Garrick Vaughn, is newly released from indentured service with a band of fabulously raucous but loving queer pirates and hoping to atone for his misdeeds. Throughout his journey, he encounters the lovely and vocally impressive Mabel (Laura Whittenberger) and her gender-bending siblings. Surprisingly, the two fall instantly in love with one other.

This is the plot conflict that casts them as social pariahs in a LGBTQ society that seems allergic to heteronormative relationships. This newfound love affair is challenged by Mabel’s father, the respectable Major-General, played by the hilarious Larry Lees; the diva Pirate King played by Jake Blouch; and Frederic’s own unending sense of responsibility, not to mention the awkwardness of their heterosexual love.

“I believe pirates are delicious characters for actors to play,” said director Peter Reynolds. “I know that the men and women in Pirates of Penzance greatly enjoyed inhabiting the roles of pirates in a homonormative world.” In creating this world, Reynolds said that it was not difficult to stay true to the script because the story “really lent itself to this adaptation.”

Actor Nate Golden, who plays one of Mabel’s siblings in the production and has previously acted in other Mauckingbird plays, considered this a “pure delight.” “I believe it’s important for these classic works to be seen from a different prospective than the view from when they were written,” Golden said. “Mauckingbird’s queer lens provides vision of equality and inclusion without besmirching the integrity of the classic.”

Mauckingbird Theatre’s incredible adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance is running through September 4th at Temple University’s Randall Theater, 2020 North 13th Street. Tickets are available at mauckingbird.org.

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