A THOUGHT PROVOKING PRODUCTION OF “PEN/MAN/SHIP”
A Thought-provoking Production of “Pen/Man/Ship”
Extraordinary performances help this new drama by Christina Anderson. “Pen/Man/Ship” seems to be a play in progress and it certainly needs tightening to make it a powerful symbol-laden drama. The 90 minute drama takes place in 1898 on a ship mound for Liberia. This is the time when there was a campaign by the American Colonization Society to send African Americans back to Africa especially to the newly formed country. The four member cast of fine African-American actors is astonishing telling the story of a father and son about aboard the ship bound for Africa on a mysterious mission.
The playwright writing is stylish and sometimes almost biblical in places. This is particularly true with the captain of the ship Charles ( Adrian Roberts) who is a very rich African American businessman heading back to their homeland in Liberia. He has sequestered himself from the rest of humankind with his affluence and stature. No one rates a very high assessment in his eyes even his own son Jacob (Eddie Ray Jackson) who he believes is beneath him. He has had to bail his son out jail after he was caught in a “brothel for fairies”. The son does go about showing sensual drawings of gay fetish artist Tom of Finland to the audience.
Charles does tolerate a crew member Cecil ( Tyee Tilghman)who is constantly playing an accordion even though the playing is getting on the nerves of the man. Finally the crewman becomes the son Charles wishes he’d had. Rounding out this symbolic play is the mystery woman Ruby (Tangela Large). She refuses to participate of the nightly reading of the Bible between Charles and his son Jacob at first. Charles doesn’t like or trust her because she isn’t afraid of him or any man. Finally she relents and then intentionally misreads a passage from the Bible that upsets Charles way of thinking.
Adrian Roberts gives a powerful performance as the well-heeled businessman Charles who spends most of this time below deck where he keeps a journal of his passage and a bottle of gin to keep him company. He gives a perfect performance of a combination of veracity and atrociousness. Eddie Ray Jackson is impressive playing the son Jacob. He nails the complex character with great distinction. Tangela Large is memorable as Ruby as a woman who has had to kowtow to the white establishment in America and is now ready to hold her own in Liberia. Rounding out the memorable cast is Tyee Tilgman who is excellently skilful playing Cecil.
Angrette McCloskey had devised a striking set of an ark of reeds that suggests both a seafaring vessel and a cage. Sara Huddleson sound is awesome with the sounds of waves against the ship. Ray Oppenheimer’s lighting design enlarges the extents of the small space of the three sided theatre. Ryan Guzzo Purcell judiciously directs this two hour with intermission drama.
“Pen/man/ship” plays through June 15th at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd. Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco. For tickets call the box office at 415-441-8822 or on line at www.magictheatre.org