History buffs and harbor enthusiasts: If you haven’t been to the Waterfront Museum in the waters off Red Hook, Brooklyn, there’s a shadow-puppet show on for two more weekends that’s a good excuse for a visit. The historic, 100-year-old, wooden covered Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79 is hosting Blood Red Roses: The Female Pirate Project, a production of Drama of Works.
Five performers form the crew for five stories of female pirates through the ages and around the world. Four of the stories are real, one may be merely legendary, but all come to life through shadow puppets, costumed live action, and boisterous if not always in-tune a capella singing of traditional seafaring songs, rigged with new lyrics for the stories of pirate figures like Jeanne de Clisson, the Lioness of Brittany; Grace O’Malley, the Sea Queen of Connaught; and Ching Shih, Terror of the South China Sea. Perhaps the most interesting is the tale of Anne “Bonne” Bonney and Mary “Mark” Read, whose pirate careers involved cross-dressing disguises.
Along with capsule bios, the program lists over a dozen more female pirates whose lives the production didn’t have room to explore. I had no idea.
The production itself is crudely constructed, with an amateurish ring to it, rocky pacing, and puppetry crisply enacted but very basic, especially in a theatrical universe that also contains the marvelously creative likes of Lula Del Ray. Blood Red Roses has the tone of a children’s show, yet also, here and there, inappropriate language for such, giving it a schizophrenic feel.
To me the most enjoyable aspect is hearing shanties like “Wild Colonial Boy,” “Bully in the Alley,” “Blood Red Roses,” and “What Do We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” sung with gusto. Aboard the rocking barge, the music is pure pleasure. If enthusiasm equalled artistry, this show would be worth its weight in doubloons. As to setting, it’s unmatched. And it’s a great reason to spend some time aboard the Waterfront Museum, one of the most unusual sites in all the wilds of New York City. Get tickets online or call (866) 811-4111.