?Penzance? lacks pizzazz

Jason Okamoto

Gilbert and Sullivan?s “Pirates of Penzance” is a comic opera first performed in 1879 that was praised for being a great work of hilarity for its time. Somewhere between then now, the play lost everything that once charmed the pants off of classy theatergoers, as the current production at Sacramento State proves.

This version of “Penzance” includes the efforts of many talented artists. The cast is mostly made of Sac State students, and is directed by Paul R. Waldo, a professor in the theatre department. But even with Waldo pulling out all of the stops, he still cannot save the “timeless” story.

The set design, also headed by Waldo, provides a serene atmosphere for the colorful pirates and maidens to perform their jubilant song and dance numbers ? songs that describe the banal happenings of what are supposed to be “wacky” scenes. The lyrics are somewhat incoherent, but this is probably the result from a combination of the theater?s sound system and the fast flow of Gilbert?s words.

This does not hurt the play, but adds to it as one tries to figure out the exact thoughts of certain characters. Most of these are expressed superbly with body movements instead. The song and dance numbers only become a drag when you know what is going to happen next. This is why other musicals such as “The Scarlet Pimpernel” have taken the place of “Pirates of Penzance.”

It would insulting to say these young energetic actors were “too good,” because that would make them boring and useless. However, it seemed they were playing from pre-fabricated parts that over the years have been worn so much that they?ve lost their stink. They are neutral, like that fake “new-car” odor.

With the excitement that they showed in some scenes, the cast could have kicked ass in a post-modernist version of “Penzance.” There were still some performances that stuck out, especially from a few theatre majors. Jamie Price was hilarious as the Pirate King, the leader of a gang of pirates that refuses to pick a fight with any group weaker than them. Price resembles a young Martin Short, playing off comical gestures and expressions that make one anxious to see what he is going to do next.

Jennifer Kirkham was also convincing as Ruth, the 47-year-old nanny, who thinks she is still sexy. When Ruth changes costumes halfway though the play she also sprouts a wicked sense of humor in scenes that are supposed to be more serious. Kirkham doesn?t miss a beat when this change occurs.

Another outstanding performance comes from Amy Henderson as Kate, one of the Major General?s daughters. It is easy to forget that the characters in “Penzance” are British until she begins to sing an eloquent solo in the middle of act one. Henderson, not having a solo in act two, makes one wonder why the entire cast is waving British flags at the end.

What makes Sac State?s version of “Pirates of Penzance” so hard to forgive is that it could have been better. Even with the outdated story, there is energy from the large ensemble cast. Something should be done here. Maybe Waldo could switch his play dates to the time of rehearsals. I?m sure those are more fun.