BY PATRICIA McALPINE, FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE
"Pirates" is a great night of theater for a great cause. ... It will remind you that laughter is the best medicine and it's OK to have a good cry once and awhile when among bosom buddies."
Amid laughter and tears, "Pirates of the Chemotherapy" lives up to its goal of bringing awareness about the benefits of early detection for breast cancer, while also providing a thoroughly moving experience. Under the direction of Attleboro resident Beverly Darling, the play features a cast of local women, some of whom have survived breast cancer, and the bond between them is heart wrenchingly real on the basement stage of the Memorial Baptist Church.
Written by Paul Schutte, "Pirates" is reminiscent of "Steel Magnolias" in that both are authored by men while featuring an all female cast. Even more amazing is the insight the playwright offers and the closeness he conveys among the characters.
The play centers on a support group for breast cancer patients, but before it gets to that, the audience is taken on a whirlwind ride to dramatize how quickly life can change when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer.
This opening prologue is staged in a circus-like atmosphere that brings humor to this very serious subject. A young mother, played by Jennifer Vaughn of Attleboro, is poked and prodded by the other women as she goes from mammogram to mastectomy to chemo.
While the antics of the other women will make you laugh, Vaughn's reaction to it all will have you in tears. She is appropriately distraught and mortified.
Vaughn's performance throughout the prologue is spot on, and she remains consistent as the organized mom who must learn to make adjustments in her life with the help of the support group.
The group consists of five other survivors: Nancy Rogers, the sympathetic, somewhat prim and proper leader (Heather Carey of Norton); Winnie Talbot, a no-nonsense businesswoman (Kim Alessandro of Attleboro); Karen Wallace, the meek and mild housewife (Lisa Forsgard of North Attleboro); Peace Agora, the optimistic New Age sprite (Kimberlyn Roche of Attleboro); and Doris Baggett, the very talkative and crude "Wonder Woman" (Barbara Crowell of North Attleboro).
As we learn more about their experiences, we see that these women are more than their disease, and that the support group is much more about the bonds of friendship that develop among women.
Crowell steals many a scene and brings on much of the laughter with her crass comments and her ability to talk incessantly. Her and Carey's characters also share some lighthearted banter as Nancy continually tries to shut them up.
In her role as leader of the group, Carey brings a compassionate nature to her character as she maintains a semblance of order.
As each woman shares experiences, it is Peace that we find most surprising, as she considers her lumpectomy a blessing. The others don't understand at first, but Peace reminds them, and us, that beauty is not always what's on the outside, but what's inside.
Roche embraces this role with a bubbly personality and balances the character's airhead approach with intermittent bouts of wisdom. The character is more reminiscent of a spiritual guru but one with a lot more vivacity, and Roche is a joy to watch on stage.
The one character that remains quiet through the first scenes is Karen. That ends when the others are amusingly sharing stories about what they use to vomit in, and she quietly tells them that her husband has left her.
Forsgard is perfectly timid as Karen as she begins to open up in this heart-wrenching scene in which she also reveals that her husband had called her a "pirate" because of the head scarf she wore.
It is this comment that inspires Winnie to bring some new props as well as new strength to the group, and the "Pirates of the Chemotherapy" are born.
As "pirates," the women's bond deepens as they help Karen in her situation and then continue to support each other through the effects of chemo and everyday life. It is a transcendent bond that resonates with the audience.
Winnie is independent and a bit of a cynic in the beginning as she offers Reason No. 486 for why she will never marry. Alessandro conveys her character well in addition bringing her own strength and vulnerability to the role. That's particularly true in a very emotional scene with Forsgard when Winnie makes a surprising revelation.
It is Winnie's determination that will bring new life to all of women and Karen in particular. Forsgard does a terrific job with this transformation from someone in the shadows to someone willing to stand up for herself.
"Pirates" is a great night of theater for a great cause. Kudos to Darling, the cast and crew for bringing this play to the area. It will remind you that laughter is the best medicine and it's OK to have a good cry once and awhile when among bosom buddies.
It's a two thumbs up, so be sure to go - and bring lots of Kleenex.