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|A CurtainUp Review
Down Under Darling
A fractured and subversive reinvention of the history of Australia's pirates written and directed by Harvard graduate John Astor-Kaye and with music (Donald Arrington) and a cast of six playing 34 roles. The narrative centers on a British upstart social-climber deliciously named, Peter Darling, (Robert Armstrong) who poses as an escaped convict in order to trap a pirate captain also deliciously named Abel Trehane Rhymer (James Lahmer), who besides his swashbuckling activities writes such unappreciated musicals as "Blow, Siren, Blow." Add to this the press release's further description of the play:
A combination of a straightforward narrative comedy
A class-conscious humorist's attack on colonialism
Elements of stand-up, cabaret and vaudeville blended. with Coward-meets-Farquhar dialogue and crackling bon mots
You can see why I headed for the Wing Theatre Company's subterranean space in the Archive Building on Christopher Street in the West Village--a neighborhood where I've experienced many delightful evenings (at the Lucille Lortel, Greenwich House, the old Ridiculous Theater etc).
You don't expect lavish production values from a company like this. You also know that this kind of serio-comic serious commentary on the plight of have-nots and the role of the artist as an outsider is a hit and miss proposition. Unfortunately, the minute the three amusingly bewigged and costumed Redbeard (Michael de Bienville), Bluebeard (Matthew B. Baker) and Blackbeard (Sidney Markus) finish their prologue and the major set piece--a scrim with a sepia image of a pirate ship--comes into view, I was overwhelmed with a sense that I'd wandered into more of a miss than a hit and that this ship was going to sink under the weight of its good intentions.
As the five scenes of the first act unfold I searched desperately for the incisive wit promised by the press release. Unfortunately neither the acting or the dialogue or the music were able to raise this ship above the level best described as sophomoric. While there were bursts of chuckles from the audience, they were more in the nature of a ripple than a tidal wave.
By the end of Act One it's clear that Peter will not only realize that he loves his Captain but experience a crisis of his heretofore flabby conscience. I can't tell you whether his Act two experiences with the Wodi-Wodi people of the Outback are an improvement over the over-camped first act since, to paraphrase the heroine of Jane Eyre--Reader, I left.
My recommendation: Check it out at your own risk, or re-read Melville's Billy Budd.