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‘Gifts’ by Letter of Marque Theater Company

Theat-arrr! Pirate-inspired performers promise free holiday play

The Brooklyn Paper
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The only thing these pirates are plundering is ticket prices.

A crew of actors and self-described swashbucklers is putting on a holiday play at a Park Slope bar on Dec. 15 — and it will not cost you a single Doubloon. It is all part of Letter of Marque Theater Company’s mission to bring live theater back to the people.

“Theater these days is seen as a pretentious art that only people in the arts or people who are very rich can afford,” said Nolan Kennedy, the artistic director of the Gowanus-based troupe. “We want to do theater that is much more in line with Shakespeare’s troops, when the theater was for the masses.”

Kennedy — who also performs with the political performance ensemble Strike Anywhere — alternates the role of artistic lead in the company with fellow actors Scarlet Maressa River and Walland H. Scripps, in a democratic style he said was also used by 18th century pirate crews.

“We wanted to do something different and create an ensemble that ran like a pirate ship — in that everybody can hand, reef, and steer — and translate that into the theater,” Kennedy said.

Letter of Marque — which is named for the documents governments issued to privateers, excepting them from piracy laws so long as the ships they attacked and robbed were enemy vessels — is funded by philanthropic arts foundations and organizations and through donations, so it does not have to pillage its audiences for admission costs. It also hosts its shows in everyday places, which Kennedy said he hopes will make the company’s shows more accessible.

“We wanted to perform at places where we can insert theater into people’s lives in a way that’s not intrusive,” he said. “We want to experiment with doing theater in unconventional spaces.”

“Gifts,” the play Letter of Marque will be performing at the Fifth Estate Bar, is also imbued with the company’s altruistic spirit. Adapted from O. Henry’s short story “Gift of the Magi,” it chronicles a married couple as they grow older and celebrate 10 different Christmas Eves. Kennedy said he decided to rewrite the story because he has a love-hate relationship with the classic gift-giving Christmas tale.

“It’s literally, ‘I am giving you a physical thing in exchange for love and forgiveness,’” Kennedy said. “That always weirded me out. That always bugged me.”

Spoiler alert — in Kennedy’s version, of the couple ends up finding happiness without material things. It is enough to warm the heart of even the saltiest sea dog.

“Gifts” at the Fifth Estate Bar [506 Fifth Ave. between 12th and 13th avenues in Park Slope, (718) 840–0089, www.fifthestatebar.com]. Dec. 15–16 at 7:30 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Updated 10:16 pm, July 9, 2018
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