Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Pirate Queen

Last night my daughter, her two friends, and I went to see The Pirate Queen. It does still have some problems - fixable - and a few rough edges that need polishing; a bit of work here and there and it will be even more awesome than it already is! And I guess I am willing to overlook some of this because I am fascinated by the topic. Intrigued I decided to do some research on the true Pirate Queen: Gráinne Ní Mháille, which was translated by the English as Grace O’Malley. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of information to be found on line. I would like to find a copy of Granuaile: Ireland's Pirate Queen, 1530-1603, and read it to get the rest of the story, and fill in the details that obviously can't be covered in a show of this length. That and possibly Grania -- She King of the Irish Seas," by Morgan Llywelyn, which was the novel the show was based on.

The story itself, set in the 16th century, is a timeless love story of star crossed lovers and duty to country with English meddling thrown in to complicate matters. The theme of prejudice and oppression towards woman is also a complicating force. Grace learns early on to deal with the complications. Motherless, at a time when women on a boat are considered to bring bad luck, and with the help of Tiernan, her childhood friend she disguises herself as a boy and becomes a hand on her father’s vessel. When disaster strikes she proves her worth and ability and earns a place as one of the ships crew despite the fact that she is a woman.

Grace and Tiernan fall in love on the pirate ship, which in its day destroyed and plundered many English ships.

Grace is seen as a threat to Queen Elizabeth the first, not only as a proud defender of Ireland, but also as a direct rival for Irish loyalty. Elizabeth sees herself as Queen of Ireland and will not stand for another (a woman, no less, how ironic!) to be seen as sovereign of Ireland. She orders Grace destroyed.

Warring clans are forced to unite against England, and Grace, though in love with Tiernan is to be married to Donal O’Flaherty, heir to a powerful neighboring clan. Grace, devastated accepts this as her duty and abides by her fathers wish, leaving behind a heartbroken Tiernan.

OK – that’s all I’m telling you. There is a lot more to cover in this fast paced 2 hour and 40 minute musical. Love, betrayal, sword fights, Irish dancing, battle scenes, great celtic music and an awesome set with wonderful special effects and lighting made this a really enjoyable musical. To say nothing of the fact that it is awesome to see a strong woman depicted and honored. Grace has some great lines in this play!

Because this is the world premiere here in Chicago, and pre-Broadway, the sound track has not been released yet. I will definitely be waiting to purchase it!

Anne Chambers, author of the biography, Granuaile: Ireland's Pirate Queen, 1530-1603 and Consultant to the Show writes the background historical notes both for the Show’s official website and for the performance program. "Believing that what emerges is the story of a unique mould-breaker, a woman far more liberated and empowered than most in this age of perceived equality and woman-power," she has this to say about Grace:
Granuaile was a victim of the male orientation of historical record and analysis. But in her case more than mere male chauvinism ensured her dismissal from the pages of history. By not fitting the mould determined and demanded by later generations of Irish historians, Granuaile committed an additional transgression. Until recent years Irish heroes were required to be suitably adorned in the green cloak of patriotism, their personal lives untainted, their religious beliefs fervently Roman Catholic (with an occasional allowance for rebel Protestants!). But Granuaile was, as one of her detractors wrote of her, 'a woman who overstepped the part of womanhood'. In not allowing religious, social or political convention to deter her during her lifetime, she simply did not fit the required historical mould.

Anyway, I realize I am getting carried away, but I am intrigued, and want to learn more about this. Despite lackluster reviews, the audience responded favorably and enthusiastically. With the exception of the elderly man next to me who kept nodding off, it seemed like most people thoroughly enjoyed it. Probably this is not a show for everyone. Then don’t go, but if you like this kind of story, you WILL like The Pirate Queen.

See video clip here.

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