An infamous pirate, a witch, forbidden love and more all occurred on Cape Cod in the early 18th century as portrayed in the world premiere of “From The Heart Of The Wreck” at Brewster’s Cape Rep Theatre. Around the time Chatham was established over 300 hundred years ago, a pirate ship wrecked off the coast of Wellfleet after sailing through the Chatham fog into a violent nor’easter.
After hearing the story of Black Sam Bellamy, his embarkation into piracy, and his love affair with the Witch of Wellfleet related so remarkably in the play, one has to wonder why Hollywood hasn’t grabbed hold of this tale! While we’ve all heard about the discovery of the Whydah, Black Sam’s ship-wrecked ship, in 1984 and the substantial treasures in her hold, I was unaware of the back story. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention but I didn’t know about the Cape Cod woman who waited for Bellamy, or how Sam was best known not just as the wealthiest pirate in recorded history but a “Robin Hood” known for empathy and benevolence.
This play, conceived by Cape Rep’s own Kristen Peacock and Nick Nudler, is a tale of love and glory. It’s a fascinating story and the playwrights have chosen to tell it in a very interesting way – part narration, part play, part song, part pantomime, all with a hearty dash of humor (thanks Ari Lew!). From the haunting opening scene to the suspenseful conclusion, you are drawn in by their expert storytelling.
I don’t know if it’s wiser to familiarize yourself on the principals first or just jump into it totally unprepared. I chose the latter and was not disappointed, though it did spur me to get online and try to find out more when I got home. You’ll find there’s not too much known because it all occurred in the early 1700s, and much of the history relies on hearsay and conjecture. Thanks to Peacock and Nudler for filling in the blanks and bringing the story to life as they see it. The setup allows and informs the audience that there could be other versions of the story, but once this company of actors begin the tale as they see it, it naturally takes on its own path. It was mesmerizing.
There were tears, gasps and more from the audience on opening night. This company of five (Coleman Churchill, BT Hayes, Lew, Nudler and Peacock) pour their heartfelt zeal into the storytelling as they both emotionally and physically leap and bound across the stage. You experience sailing on a huge ship, the anguish of childbirth, a mutiny, the thrill and conquest of a chase, a nor’easter and more. All in a little over an hour. It’s both awe-inspiring and exhausting.
This is Peacock and Nudler’s baby; they directed the show also. Nudler designed the excellent sound effects, too. Ryan McGettigan’s set design was ambidextrous in its approach; scenes easily flowed in time and place, from beach to the deck of the ship on either side of the stage. Cape Rep’s stage with the raw beams lent itself perfectly to the concept of a ship; it’s all so eerie and magical. The lighting designed by Susan Nicholson conjured up a storm effectively. Robin McLaughlin’s costumes were that finishing touch, and stage manager Tori Mondello made sure all the cues were met.
“From The Heart Of The Wreck” is a unique experience and one you won’t want to miss. I found myself reflecting on it again and again in the days after I saw it. Cape Rep does it again!
"From The Heart Of The Wreck"
At Cape Rep Theatre, Route 6A, Brewster
Through Sept. 10, Wednesday to Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, www.caperep.org