Category Archive for: ‘Judy Richter’

Un-tranquil voyage in ‘pen/man/ship’

It’s 1896, and a former whaling ship is sailing from the United States to Liberia with an all-black crew in Christina Anderson’s “pen/man/ship,” being given its world premiere by Magic Theatre.

The only characters the audience meets are the three black passengers and a crew member. Chief among the passengers is Charles (Adrian Roberts), a land surveyor who has chartered the ship and hired the crew because he has a project awaiting him in the African nation. At first, he’s the only one who knows the true nature of the mission.

He is accompanied by his adult son, Jacob (Eddie Ray Jackson), who has brought along a woman friend, Ruby (Tangela Large). The crew member who befriends Charles is the accordion-playing Cecil (Tyee Tilghman).

Part of this psychological drama focuses on the love-hate relationship that Jacob has for his imperious, elitist father, who imbibes regularly in gin. The other part focuses on the astute Ruby and her increasingly contentious relationship with Charles and closer relationship to the crew, who are growing to dislike him.

The passage of time in this two-act play is depicted by the journal kept by the widowed Charles. Many scenes take place on the sabbath, which father and son have regularly observed with hymns and the study of Bible verses. Ruby is invited to join them, but she’s not terribly receptive, especially since Charles doesn’t trust her.

After the death of a crewman who supposedly attacked Charles, he refuses to tell the crew what happened. Consequently, Ruby orders the sailors to lower the sails, leaving the ship adrift on the ocean, until he agrees to talk to them.

Director Ryan Guzzo Purcell keeps the play moving fairly well despite its talkiness and relatively confined quarters (set by Angrette McCloskey). Still, it drags in spots. Likewise, the actors do well, but sometimes the characters reveal key information so off-handedly that some in the audience might not catch its implications.

The often-dark lighting is by Ray Oppenheimer with ocean sounds by Sara Huddleston. Costumes are by Antonia Gunnarson.

The play has undergone a long genesis of workshops at several venues, but it still could benefit from some tightening and clarifying.

It will continue at the Magic Theatre, Building D, FortMasonCenter, San Francisco, through June 15. For tickets and information, call (415) 441-8822 or visit


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