What do you get when you mix together French pirates, a mysterious island inhabited by Amazonian women and a pair of castaways?
Randolph College’s production of the Jacobean comedy “The Sea Voyage,” obviously!
Still don’t recognize the name?
That’s actually not surprising. Patrick Earl, who is directing Randolph’s production, says no one really stages this play anymore.
And given what theater historian Aaron Thomas tells us, there’s a pretty good reason for that.
“There is a whole slew of plays that don’t have modern editions,” says Thomas, who serves as Endstation Theatre Company’s literary manager and teaches at Florida State University.
"And think about how those editions were published,” he adds. “Nobody’s going in and being really careful about punctuation. There aren’t going to be a great many footnotes that help the actors.”
As you might have guessed, “The Sea Voyage” is one of those plays.
Earl acknowledges the risk Randolph is taking by staging a relatively unknown play, but, to him, the risk is worth it.
"It’s so accessible,” he says. “The language is great, but it’s not as dense as Shakespeare and it’s not as prolific as [Christopher] Marlowe. So, it really dances a fine line between poetry and real dialogue. And some of the scenes are just comedic genius.”
For any theater aficionados out there who are alarmed they’ve never heard of this play — or its playwrights, John Fletcher and Phillip Massinger — panic no more.
The Burg’s got you covered with its newest cheat sheet so you’ll be prepared for tonight’s opening.
Normally, we focus on the plot, the peeps and the point in our theatrical cheat sheets. But since this play is hella old, we’ve set our ship down a slightly different course.
So, without further ado, The Burg exultantly elucidates this play with “Sea Voyage: the plot ... and some other stuff you may or may not have wanted to know.”
So, there’s like a voyage at sea, right?
Ironically, this play mostly takes place on land, though, like all good sea-related plays, it begins in the middle of a storm — a tempest, if you will (more on that below) — at sea.
Captain Albert, a French pirate, and his ship are caught in a storm while searching for the brother of Aminta, the lady Albert captured, kept aboard his ship and subsequently fell for. And they say love is dead.
After throwing everything (even their treasure) overboard, they make it to shore and meet two Portuguese castaways, Sebastian and his nephew Nicusa. The pirates become distracted when they see the castaways’ treasure; the castaways use their distraction to flee and steal the pirates’ ship.
Being stuck on a deserted island stinks. A few folks consider cannibalism.
Albert almost dies, but Aminta saves him and she admits her love for him — I’ll take Stockholm syndrome for $600, Alex.
Albert & co. eventually discover they are are not alone. The island is inhabited by a commonwealth of Amazonian women, who also got stuck there because of a pirate attack. The women (mostly their leader, Rosella, and her daughter, Clarinda) have sworn off all contact with men, but turns out they need them to make babies or the commonwealth won’t survive. So they decide to use Albert and his passengers to, well, you get the point.
Chaos ensues when Clarinda picks Albert to be her partner and the pirates try to woo the ladies with Sebastian’s and Nicusa’s treasure.
Everything works out, and it ends with wedding bells.
Jacoby-whats-its? A history in two parts:
“The Sea Voyage” was written in what is known as the Jacobean era (1603 to 1625, in case you fell asleep in history class), the English period that corresponds to the rein of James I. Theater was a major form of entertainment during this time, and King James was one of Shakespeare’s patrons (which is why the Bard’s acting company was known as the King’s Men).
“This period of theater is really marked by an investment in questioning,” says Thomas.
People were asking questions about the power of government (though note how none of these plays are ever set in England, Thomas adds) as well as what it means to be human. Deep stuff, right?
Shakespeare wasn’t the only playwright during that time. Two others were John Fletcher and Phillip Massinger.
Fletcher actually collaborated with the Bard on a few plays, most notably “Henry VIII” and took over as principle playwright for the King’s Men when Shakespeare retired.
Believe it or not, Fletcher’s fame rivaled Shakespeare’s in his day. Talk about getting screwed by history.
Massinger, meanwhile, was not super famous even in his own time. “He never really achieved a lot of fame or fortune because his plays appealed to moralists and politicians,” says Earl.
He also worked with the King’s Men and eventually succeeded Fletcher as the company’s resident dramatist.
You’re probably thinking, “I’ve never heard of this play, and yet these characters seem so familiar" (well, if you weren’t before, you are now).
There’s that sense of déjà vu because “The Sea Voyage” is utilizing a lot of classic comedy stock characters. We’ve got a macho hero, a village idiot (technically village idiots), and a roguish but ever-loyal BFF. There’s even the hopeless romantic, the radical revolutionary and the lustful maiden.
But that doesn’t mean the play’s all stereotypes.
“As far as what’s unique about this play is just the diversity and personality in the female characters,” says Earl.
And those expectations we have because we know these characters set us up for some fun surprises: “What I love about this play is we’re headed in the first scene for that stereotypical [direction]," Earl says. "... But then it flips it on its head."
Did you know?
» “Sea Voyage” draws heavily on Shakespeare’s famous play “The Tempest.” It features a storm, a group of castaways and a mysterious island inhabited by unusual people. There’s also a woman who has never seen a man — that’s not a euphemism; she literally can’t remember ever seeing a man in her life.
» John Fletcher got a blink-and-you-missed-it shout-out in the 1950 film “All About Eve.” He and his most famous collaborator, Francis Beaumont, get name-dropped along with a few other playwrights by Bette Davis’ character. However, she uses the pair as more of an insult than anything, so it’s not exactly a compliment.