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Don't think of "How I Became a Pirate" as just children's theater, although your kids are certain to like it more than an Ibsen play.
Instead, Salt Lake Acting Company's cast (or should we say crew!) say, approach it as pure escapist entertainment.
"We've all played pirates at some stage in our life," said Penelope Marantz Caywood, director and choreographer of SLAC's production. "It's an open invitation to 'Yo-ho-ho!' and 'Arghh!' yourself into insanity."
That the play's central character of Jeremy Jacob is played in turns by two 12-year-old Utah boys helps bring the story into vivid, rollicking life.
In her day job, Caywood directs University of Utah's Youth Theatre. Michael Tao and Fynn White were both charges under Caywood's direction there. In addition, the boys know each other through their studies at Morningside Elementary School's Accelerated Learning Program.
The two admit to competing to outdo each other in the "Speak Like a Pirate" sweepstakes that the play provides. Other than that, of course, they're perfect gentlemen of the stage.
"Whenever my mother wanted me to calm down she'd say, 'Go watch "Peter Pan," ' " Fynn said. "I think that was the first time I learned about pirates."
"I'm pretty sure my first pirate experience was Treasure Island," Michael said.
Whatever their level of pirate expertise before, they're fully immersed in life on the high seas now. The Melinda Long book on which the stage adaptation is based takes mere minutes to read, but thanks to the creativity of Janet Yates and Mark Friedman, it becomes an hourlong minor epic of theater fun and mayhem.
It's the story of what happens after Jacob leaves his parents on the beach to join Captain Braid Beard. Then Beard and his merry crew take a wrong turn near Bora Bora.
Long's story nudges gently around allegory when Jacob discovers, after a storm at sea, that nothing can replace the security of home life under the watchful eye of his parents. "Nobody had time to sit close and tell me it would be over soon. Nobody even noticed me," he says in Long's book.
The play acknowledges that theme, while also emphasizing the thirst for adventure, as Jacob joins Braid Beard and his crew for plenty of song-and-dance numbers. The script is rife with phrases liberally borrowed from a "Pirate's Thesaurus," resulting in lots of not swordplay, but wordplay, such as puns on "poop deck," for example.
"We never say, 'Mom's mad!' " says Captain Braid Beard, played by J. Michael Bailey.
"No," answers Michael Tao as Jacob. "We say, 'Thar she blows!' "
In addition to good fun, the play's larger aim is to remind theatergoers what it feels like to be imaginatively caught up in the throes of adventure.
"It's catchy so simple and so infectious," Bailey said. "We forget what it's like to be a kid and enjoy every bit of the ride. This is a play that let's us go there."
The play offers an opportunity to "take children seriously," Caywood said, not in kids attempting to be more like adults, but instead having the freedom to act like children. That includes yelling, stomping of feet, and the urge to build a pirate ship or castle in the family backyard.
"I haven't had to pull anyone in the cast back at all, or say, 'Give me more!' " she said.
Michael Tao said he's occasionally dreamt in "pirate speak" since rehearsals began.
The director, too, has found the vernacular of high-seas adventure creep into her everyday life. "I'll go home and talk 'pirate' and think I'm pretty funny when I catch myself," Caywood said. "I think I'm pretty funny, but my daughter tells me I'm not."
'How I Became a Pirate'
Based on the book by Melinda Long, adapted for the stage by Janet Yates and Mark Friedman.
When • Dec. 9-30: Dec. 9 opening at 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, noon and 3 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon and 3 p.m. No shows Dec. 24 and 25.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $10-$22. Call 801-363-7522 or visit http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org.