Recommended *** I confess that I had never heard of Captain Blood, a 1922 children’s novel by Rafael Sabatani adapted into a Warner Brothers film in 1935, until seeing the new stage adaptation at First Folio. However, its influence on subsequent escapist adventure stories was quite evident. Under the direction of Janice L. Blixt, the wooden hull-like chapel at the Mayslake Peabody Estate is a quite appropriate venue for this Caribbean pirate story, and an eleven-member cast headed by Nick Sandys charmingly leads us through the story with a wink and a rapier flourish.
The exposition is given in a song by adapter David Rice at the top of the show, and two of our narrators, Jaq Seifert and Christopher W. Jones, admonish a third, Kevin McKillip, for attempting to overexplain it. The mild-mannered Dr. Blood provided medical assistance to the wrong side of Monmouth’s Rebellion, and for that was sentenced to twenty years of slavery in Barbados. Colonel Bishop (Aaron Christensen), the local rich bully, wants to work him to death, which is the usual fate of those transported, but the colonel’s niece, Arabella (Heather Chrisler), who actually owns the plantation, decides Blood is more useful for his medical skills. Indeed, Blood displays miraculous aptitude when he diagnoses the governor with gout from a single glance and prescribes a modern treatment for him, although Blood claims he simply reads research done by others. He also has a perfect memory for pithy Latin quotes, speaks fluent Spanish, and has become an excellent swordsman while working as a soldier in France,.
Blood quickly begins plotting his escape and gets a chance when Spaniards led by Don Diego (Chris Vizurraga) attack Bridgetown. Though eager to make his departure, Blood pauses to assist Arabella, who is competent with a sword in her own right and insists it was she who rescued him. Blood is attracted to her, but refuses to use the absurd phrase “good slaveowner” to debase himself while describing her. After that, he’s voted captain by his crew of fellow escapees, and takes to offstage pillaging of non-English ships until again crossing paths with Bishop and Don Diego’s brother, Don Alán (McKillip).
Besides the architecture of the space itself, the main spectacle in Captain Blood is Sandys’s fight choreography. Again and again, the good-guys defeat the bad-guys in a flashy, effortless manner before tossing them into the numerous corpse pits provided by Angela Weber Miller’s scenic design. However, they do occasionally settle for just conking them on the head with a mallet. Sandys also has an elaborate duel with Don Alán, one of the few villains granted some depth of character and treated seriously by the narrative. McKillip switches characterization so completely between him and the goofy crewman Hagthorpe that he’s hardly recognizable, and the sumptuous costumes designed by Alexa Weinzerl aid his transformation.
In contrast to the arch presentation used to balance the story’s wish-fulfilling and moralizing nature, Sandys plays Blood completely seriously as a man determined to be good in a fallen world, but not be screwed by it. Chrisler, too, does good work as a confused, self-justifying woman of great privilege in her scenes with Sam Krey in the role of Lord Julian. One of the story’s few surprises is how likable Lord Julian is—though something of a fop and Sabatini’s mouthpiece, Krey has a calming air about him that makes Lord Julian’s ability to manage Arabella and Captain Blood believable. Rice developed the script with the help of his wife, First Folio’s founding artistic director Alison C. Vesely, who passed away last November. According to a Daily Herald article included with the press notes, Rice decided to leave Captain Blood’s script mostly unedited since the last time she worked on it. The title Captain Blood really ought to be enough to inform anyone of what kind of story this is, and the audience I attended with was warmly receptive. For those going in the expectation of fun and adventure, a plethora of swashbuckling awaits.
Captain Blood will continue at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W 31st St, Oakbrook, Illinois, thru February 26, with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 3:00 pm
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Sundays at 3:00 pm
Running time is two hours with one intermission. Tickets are $29-39 with discounts for students and seniors. To order, call 630-986-8067 or visit FirstFolio.org. Parking is available on the grounds.
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Captain Blood”.