South Philly residents star in play about ship lost at sea

Marking the company’s first production as the resident theater company of the Center City-based Plays and Players, this peculiar tale probes at what would happen if sailors, pirates, a drag queen and King Neptune’s bastard daughter were forced to co-exist on the unforeseeable high seas.

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South Philly residents David Kuong and Hezekiah Jackson star in Once More Theatre company’s latest production of “Wet, or Isabella the Pirate Queen Enters the Horse Latitudes,” marking the company’s first production as the resident theatre company of the Center City-based Plays and Players. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Stranded on a ship amidst an ambiguous era drifting through an ambiguous sea, two South Philly residents are trying to navigate home.

And, perhaps, find themselves, as well, along the way.

In its latest production, Once More Theatre company, a local troupe established at Community College of Philadelphia, is presenting “Wet, or Isabella the Pirate Queen Enters the Horse Latitudes,a 2012 original play by Liz Duffy Adams, directed by Peggy Mecham.

Marking the company’s first production as the resident theater company of the Center City-based Plays and Players, this peculiar tale probes at what would happen if sailors, pirates, a drag queen and King Neptune’s bastard daughter were forced to co-exist on the unforeseeable high seas.

Among its seven-person cast, South Philadelphians help to comprise the curious seagoing gaggle.

“We like to take things and kind of put our Once-More spin on it,” said Point Breeze resident Hezekiah Jackson, who plays the character of Jack “…(The play) is just another thing that lines up with rarely produced works, which is something that we always are drawn toward – things that we want to work on. That’s part of our mission.”

Fulfilling its objective to produce seldom-seen plays, Once More Theatre was drawn to Wet, or Isabella the Pirate Queen Enters the Horse Latitudes” for its heavily character-driven essence.

Since scenes are confined to a wandering vessel, the cast says this scenario naturally induces deeper character development, as much of the focus is shifted away from the spectacle and onto individual stories.

Although the bunch grapples with no wind and failing sails, the story sincerely unravels, as several clashing personalities come to perceive one another.

“Each character, to their own, has their own specific story where the audience can be drawn to certain characters…each character is unique to their own right,” said Girard Estate resident David Kuong, who plays Captain Joppa. “Performing this play during rehearsals, I’ve never seen this character being too similar to the other. It’s such an amazing contrast between one another.”

The play follows Joppa and his two loyal sailors as their ship is hijacked by two pirates, a Viscountess and, of course, the legendary Isabella – King Neptune’s illegitimate daughter.

Although Joppa, a staunch militant, is determined to return to an ongoing war, Isabella and her entourage have alternative plans in mind.

Gradually, audiences learn the lives of these seven very different souls and how, ultimately, their paths lead them to this stranded ship.

With nowhere to go but toward the horizon, the characters have no choice but to endure one another and, maybe, see their differences are not so different after all.

Under a starless sky, philosophical conversations unfold about the human condition, as themes such as freedom, war and love slowly come to the surface.

“You share your stories, you share your background, you let your guard down, because what’s the point of fighting when you’re the only ones left in that situation,” Kuong said. “You’re gonna rely on each other.”  

“When you don’t think you’re gonna make it, you tend to share more,” added Jackson.

Presented in Plays and Players’ third-floor Skinner Studio, cast members say the Black Box space particularly lends itself to this story.

Mirroring the cramped vessel, theatergoers are truly immersed, feeling the physical and emotional closeness of these characters as they yearn for individual destinations.

“(Black Box) puts you into the show,” Jackson said. “When you’re in the audience, you don’t feel like you’re in the audience. You feel like you’re in the show, and that’s what really draws audiences in, and I think that’s gonna couple greatly with a character-driven show, because we’re in such an intimate space like this.”

The characters come to realize that their goals – whether seeking land or seeking love – tend to be easier reached when working as one and recognizing their shared experiences.

The cast feels these thoughts, in particular, could evoke deeper meanings, especially on a larger scale in today’s social and political climate.

In Kuong’s and Jackson’s eyes, the play suggests our strides to understand those who seem different from us; a goal society should work toward universally – not just when stranded at sea.

“When you’re trapped in a space like that with people you may not like, you may not agree with…at the end of the day, when you have nowhere else to go and nowhere else to look towards but the wide ocean, you have each other to look at,” Kuong said. “At the end of the day, you only have each other left.”

gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano

Info: “Wet, or Isabella the Pirate Queen Enters the Horse Latitudes” runs through Saturday, April 13, at Plays and Players, 1714 Delancey Place.  For more information, visit

playsandplayers.org/wet-or-isabella-the-pirate-queen-enters-the-horse-latitudes/