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James Dunn Successfully Stages “The Pirates of Penzance” at RVP

Director James Dunn wanted us to have some fun!  He feels that summer is a perfect time for silliness.  He achieves this with his remarkable production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s (1879) The Pirates of Penzance. 

Before the curtain is even raised, the stage is set with 8 old-fashioned footlights and box seats on either side of the stage, fronted by a red-velvet curtain.  The time and place is toward the end of Victoria’s reign.  

When the curtain is raised for Act 1, it is on a rocky shore on the coast of Cornwall.  Act 2 takes place in a Ruined Chapel by Moonlight. 

As the story goes, Frederic (Cordell Wesselink) was apprentice to a group of pirates, due to an error by his guardian, Ruth (Christina Jaqua), who came along as the ship’s mate, because, you see, “pirates” sounds very much like “pilots.”  The members of this “pirate” band, led by the Pirate King (Philip Percy Williams) are brave, but their sensitive side prevents them from being completely successful – as should be for plundering pirates.  


At the age of 21, Frederic seeks the freedom to discover the non-pirate-side of life and very quickly falls in love with Mabel (Joni DeGabriele), who travels with her own troupe of 3 sisters.  Their father, Major-General Stanley (Norman A. Hall), seeks to protect his daughters from the pirates; allegiances are tested, and the police enter the fray before all is resolved by the final curtain.  

Once the curtain is raised, the atmosphere is set with Ron Krempetz’, Scenic Artist Dyhanisbrilliant set design and construction (by Michael Walraven), as well as the costumes by Michael A. Berg and Jan Koprowski and choreography by Sandra Tanner (which is excellent with every movement, adding another dimension).  The effective lighting design was by Ellen Brooks.  Music Director Paul Smith beautifully handles the accompaniment.  

Standout performances, worth the price of admission, include truly memorable performances by Norman A. Hall as Major-General Stanley; and Philip Percy Williams (who gives a broad, flamboyant, and charismatic performance as the pirate king with a richly-strong voice.  He is also accomplished at comedy, especially with the physical bits that make this show such a delight. ) Also, it’s hard to imagine a better voice than Joni DeGabriele’s beautiful soprano voice for the sweet and fetching role of Mabel. Christina Jaqua uses her wonderfully expressive face to show us the faithful Ruth, who after living with the pirates for a decade-and-a-half, is ready to choose one for her own. 

There are 22 actors whose performances are handled masterfully by James Dunn.  His wonderful direction keeps things going at a very fast pace, and he achieved his wish for us to leave this performance with both a laugh and a smile. 

Performances of The Pirates of Penzance have been running since July 16 and will go through August 16, at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. 

Regular performances are Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 8:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 p.m., and Sunday Matinees are at 2:00 p.m.  For tickets, go online to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call 415/456-9555, ext. 3.

Photography by Robin Jackson

Coming up next to start the 86th Season of Ross Valley Players will be Glorious!  the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the worst singer in the world, by Peter Quilter, directed by Billie Cox, from September 18 through October 18, 2015.