Courier-Journal Review: Fun trumps in ‘Pinafore’ at Actors

By Elizabeth Kramer

During the last Louisville visit in 2014, The Hypocrites gave audiences their rendition of “The Pirates of Penzance” replete with colorful beach-themed trimmings. Less than two years later, the Chicago-based troupe is back at Actors Theatre of Louisville with “H.M.S. Pinafore” – another adaptation from the Victorian era’s great theatrical creators W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.

With this production, directed by The Hypocrites’ founding director Sean Graney and co-directed by Thrisa Hodits, the script discards much of the formalities of this comic operetta its creators alternatively named “The Lass That Loved a Sailor.” The dominant change is that the sexes of the characters and setting it in a nautically themed pajama party where nightclothes decked with sailor collars and an array of fun, fuzzy slippers.

Only 10 actors populate this new “Pinafore” world created in this co-adaption by Graney with Andra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler. But the actors’ talents in comedy are sweetened by their musical abilities, which fortify the production with grand energy and fun. They sing and play a host of instruments including, among others, banjo, guitar, mandolin, violin, clarinet, flute and the saw. Oh, and there’s a toy piano.

The narrative sets sail with Captain Corcoran as Captain Cat Coran (Emily Casey), and son Joseph, a switch from the original Josephine, on their ship, the H.M.S. Pinafore. Passions mount when Joseph (Doug Pawlik) finds love with – wait for it – not Ralph Rackstraw, but Ralphina Rackstraw. Of course, Ralphina (Dana Omar), being from the lower class, makes this coupling undesirable, just as such matches did in 19th century England.

More complications ensue given that the captain expects Joseph to accept the marriage proposal of the high-ranking and pompous Dame Jo-Anne Porter (Lauren Vogel). The male character of the Gilbert and Sullivan original is Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty. With The Hypocrites, Vogel gives a wonderfully over-the-top portrayal depicting pomposity in a silly and hilarious extreme.

Other script modifications include sprinkling it with post-Victorian cultural quips from sources like the musical film “Singin’ in the Rain” and a Burno Mars’ song.

With The Hypocrites production, as in the original script, one question remains: Does love levels all ranks?

Much of this is clear in this story, even though other details of the original are lost in the dazzle of fun the Hypocrite’s create. This might be frustrating for some Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados, but the production is nonetheless a fun ride.

That ride is created by another theatrical approach. Like the theatrical romp The Hypocrites furnished with “The Pirates of Penzance,” this production heightens the festive mood by inviting audience members to sit on benches in and around the stage in what is called a promenade performance arrangement. During many scenes, the actors also frequently venture into the audience creating a greater feeling of being inside this production.

That and the playground-like set makes the production inviting – particularly the pool of pillows center stage that audience members sink into during the performance. Oh, and there’s a slide that plunges straight into the pillow pile. Those serve as great props, particularly when the crusty old sailor Dick Deadeye, here known as Dot Dead Eye (Kate Carson-Groner), pummels people with pillows.

In all the silliness and slapstick, one of the sweetest moments is a duet between Omar as Ralphina and Pawlik as Joseph singing of their love for each other and Omar playing the flute and Pawlik the clarinet. Those instruments also become hilarious props for an unexpected innuendo.