From Time Out Chicago Kids
January 14, 2013
By Jonathan Messinger
The first thing you need to know about the new Lifeline Theatre kids’ production, The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost, is that it’s legit scary. I’d rather not spoil the scare and describe the titular ghost, but it’s fair to say that after his first appearance, a quick scan of the audience revealed a lot of the younger audience members had crept over to the safety of parental laps. This is all for the good, as Pirate Ghost was the best kids’ show I’ve seen at the theater.
The story, adapted from the Geoffrey Hayes book of the same name by Chicago playwright Scott T. Barsotti, follows young Otto, an alligator staying with his Uncle Tooth in the quiet port of Boogle Bay. Otto finds Boogle Bay a little too slow for his tastes, and he asks his uncle to recount his days as an adventurer while he longs for his own. It turns out, however, that Boogle Bay has a scallywaggly past, full of pirates and a giant “Beast of Boogle Bay,” whom no living person has set eyes on. As the audience and Otto are let in on the Bay’s secret history, it turns out that history has come back, as a ghost has raided a candy store, an inn, and the home of Uncle Tooth’s old friend, Captian Poopdeck. Smelling a resurgence in adventure, Otto wields his wooden sword aside Tooth as they try to track down the ghost of the notorious pirate Blackeye Doodle.
Everything is really singing in this premiere. Barsotti’s script excels beyond that of most kids’ plays, crisply moving the story along while peppering in genuinely funny moments. Kimberly G. Morris’s costumes and the simple, ever-revolving set design of [Joe Schermoly] are both playful and immersive. And yes, that ghost is initially scary, so I’d hazard a guess that Lifeline has it right when it recommends the show for 5 and up. But where’s the fun in adventure if there isn’t a little something to be afraid of? Barsotti actually takes a moment halfway through the show to address the audience’s reaction, when Otto asks Uncle Tooth why he feels scared of meeting a ghost, Tooth explains that we are most often scared by things we don’t understand. It’s another example of how this show hits all the right notes.
From Chicago Theater Beat
Top rate production values put the BOO! in Boogle Bay
January 14, 2013
By Joy Campbell
Once upon a time, things were different in Boogle Bay: there were pirates, high crime, and good old-fashioned disappearances thanks to the mythic Beast of Boogle Bay. Now, Boogle Bay is more gentrified: gone are the pirates; instead we have candy stores and Puffin-run inns serving the best in carrot soup. Good for property values, not so exciting for ten-year-old Otto alligator, who finds things just a bit too boring. He spends his time imagining swordfights with pirates and dreaming of adventure and excitement. He gets his wish when a series of thefts points to the ghost of Blackeye Doodle, a notorious pirate that once lived in Boogle Bay. As the thefts continue, the clues mount, and the mystery thickens, Otto and friends set out to solve the mystery of the pirate ghost. Yar!
Lifeline Theatre’s adaptation brings us all of the excitement, suspense, and spookiness of a ghost hunt, complete with delightful characters and thrilling visuals. Kimberly Morris’s costumes and scene-stealing creatures are terrific, as are the actors’ characterizations. As Otto, Casey Cunningham strikes the right balance between excitement and naïve awe that makes her Otto completely endearing. As uncle Tooth, Josh Douglas is the parent figure with all the cool stories and an even cooler sea trunk full of memorabilia. He reminds us that everything takes practice, and that persistence pays off. Mike Ooi’s Captain Poopdeck is a lovable, somewhat buffoonish neighbor who has taught Otto everything he knows about sword fighting — when he himself is not battling the hiccups. Deanna Myers has a dual role as Auntie Hick, the prickly proprietress of the candy shop vandalized by the ghost, and as Widow Mole, the crusty, blind, piano-playing saloon owner of Dead Man’s Landing. Her diminutive size coupled with her abrasive style are a hoot. Conor McCahill likewise plays dual roles: Joe Puffin, the tightly-wound owner of the local inn, and Ducky Doodle, a juvenile delinquent in need of some tough love. All of the actors bring a sincerity and sense of fun to their characters that make it easy for us to adore them.
A big nod must also be given to the set, sound, and lighting. Joe Schermoly’s simple set is colorful and creative. A single piece of movable wall indicates all the locations in the show with the help of minor, very clever, changes. Especially effective is the rotation of this piece by other cast members to show progression into a location as an actor steps through the doorway. Gary C. Echelmeyer’s lighting is gorgeous, and instrumental in creating the variety of locales, from the sunny yard of Uncle Tooth’s house to the spooky nighttime boat ride to Dead Man’s Landing. The sound effects, designed by Michael James Brooks, complement the lighting seamlessly, establishing everything from watery environs to the damp, dripping cave Otto dares to explore. Troy Martin and Matt Test give us salty seafaring music that includes a catchy, dirge-like song that sets a macabre tone as the lyrics evolve with the story’s exposition.
A word about the ghost: I thought the ghost was awesome; however, adults should probably heed the 5-and-up age suggestion. The ghost’s white skull and glowing red eyes create a great visual that is deliciously spooky, but it IS spooky. I didn’t hear any distraught kids, even among the younger ones, and the ghost does eventually manifest a goofy giggle that makes it a little less scary, but if your child is easily frightened, I’d hold off. If you’re unsure, use this test: if your child can handle Scooby Doo, they’ll be fine.
From Chicago Reader
January 15, 2013
By Jack Helbig
Adapted by Chicago playwright Scott Barsotti from Geoffrey Hayes’s 1985 children’s book, The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost tells the story of a plucky young alligator and his Scooby-Doo-esque adventures as he tries to discover whether the ghost of a local pirate is responsible for a series of petty thefts. Every element of this hour-long production should appeal to five- to ten-year-olds, from the playful performances to Kimberly Morris’s colorful costumes and the lively songs by Troy Martin and Matt Test. Director Paul Holmquist has assembled a great ensemble of actors, all of whom seem genuinely to enjoy performing for kids. The predictable downside is that the show can wear thin after a while for the adults in the audience. But then that’s true of most children’s programming.