Fight choreography heightens battle of the sexes in pirate thriller ‘Bonny Anne Bonny’
Theater Red, Wisconsin Lutheran combine efforts

By JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

November 3, 2016


Calico Jack Rackham (Zach Thomas Woods) and Anne Bonny (Alicia Rice) face off as Leah Northrop, part of the ensemble in “Bonny Anne Bonny,” watches the duel.
Traveling Lemur Productions

WAUWATOSA - ”Bonny Anne Bonny” by local playwright Liz Shipe is an experience to behold. Directed by Christopher Elst, a master director and fight choreographer, this adventure story epitomizes the battle between the sexes. A lot of well-executed swordplay and a goodly share of hand-to-hand combat are woven into the fabric of this marine tapestry. Some of it offers some humor, and much of it some surprises.

Does a man want a powerful woman or one who is subservient to him? Does a woman desire love or power or both? There is a lot of ambivalence in this tale amid many relationships.

Anne Bonny’s honest baring of her soul to the adolescent Lila (Jessica Schulz) near the end of the play captures her struggle to prove herself and still be accessible to others. In her desire to extend her boundaries, she has lost touch with her humanity. Women often pay a high price when they step out of their stereotypical roles. The conversation between Blackbeard and Calico Jack is also very telling from the male perspective.

The incredibly realistic set design by Christopher Kurtz beautifully bespeaks the high seas. The cast is amazingly athletic in its navigations of the ladders and ropes and barrels. Rae Elizabeth Pare as Mary Read is especially lithe in her movements as is Macie Laylan in her role as the mute Magpie. Pare as Mary, Anne Bonny’s companion, is the easiest to understand.

It was frustrating at times to not understand the dialogue because it is a rich script. Whenever there’s a foreign dialect to deal with, it presents a challenge to strike the balance between being true to the reality of it but still being understood by the audience. Besides Pare, Bryan Quinn (Biscuit) and Thomas Sebald (Captain Pressley) were the easiest to understand. 

I was disappointed in Alicia Rice’s articulation. Though she was a very strong character and amazing in her dueling skills as Anne Bonny, she was the lead and should have been clearer in conveying the heart of the story.

Many interesting characters people the tale: Blackbeard (James Carrington), Heartless Jane (Liz Shipe), Iron Jenny (Drea DeVos), Alonzo de Corazon (Sean Duncan), and Calico Jack (Zach Thomas Woods) are especially colorful. The duels are very exciting, and the dance between Alonzo and Heartless is very well-executed. Duncan is mesmerizing in his role as the histrionic, egotistic Alonzo.

Most of the drama takes place on ships. Basically Anne Bonny’s crew is trying to capture Captain Pressley’s prestigious British ship, mostly just to prove they can. Much of the character revelation occurs during this daunting conflict, especially that of Anne Bonny (Alicia Rice).

This production is an amazing accomplishment for its physicality and its underlying theme of the difficulty of male-female relationships, which often represent an even more imposing task than pirating. I’ll wager that the cast enjoyed the adventure as much as we did. They certainly brought a lot of energy and vigor to the task. See it. You won’t forget it.

“Bonny Anne Bonny”

The play, a collaborative effort between Theater Red and Wisconsin Lutheran College, runs through Nov. 12  in the Raabe Theatre at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wauwatosa. Tickets can be purchased at the door.