Rodney Lee Rogers may favor Stede Bonnet more than he realizes. Contrary to the typical vibe of 18th century pirates, Bonnet was not an unkempt villain. The so called “gentleman pirate” was a wealthy landowner in Barbados before converting to a life of crime. As a result, Rogers’ clean nails and shapely goatee are not so much an anachronism, but more of a relation to the pirate himself.
The costume may help. Although there is no curly wig to conjure the image of Captain Hook, the jacket and stockings under rolled knickers do the job, and we caught an alluring glimpse of his pink and purple satin coat lining.
The one-man show follows the rise and fall of Bonnet’s pirating career. Rogers jumps from character to character, at times describing the gentlemanly pirate from third person before switching again to first. The most comedic parts are the descriptions of Bonnet in the voice of Edward Teach, better known as the infamous Blackbeard. A far better commander, and significantly more gritty and violent, he mocks the pansy pirate, who is often heard quoting Shakespeare and had a hard time controlling his crew.
The show is performed in the Powder Magazine, one of the older buildings of old Charleston. The surroundings help set the time and image for the detailed and extremely accurate recount of pirate history, if nothing else. The venue is stiflingly hot — I’m talking sweating while standing-still hot. A move to the courtyard does little to ease the heat, although it provides excellent props of cannons and a form of stockade, which Rogers uses to his full advantage The lack of stage is also a bit of a nuisance, as it hard to follow Rogers’ every move and word from one single vantage point. As for seating, if you can’t stand or lean for 45 minutes, this is not a show for you.
The pitfalls of the locale do little to dampen Rogers’ excited performance. His energy level is high, and he can’t help but entertain as he runs around the Magazine in full character, living every little boy’s dream of being a pirate — wielding thin-bladed swords, jumping on cannons and shouting every so often. Rogers’ voice is loud and booming, even when faced with obscene children screaming from across the street and incessant honking. His candor and studied accent are also incredibly steady, helping transport viewers to a time when pirates ruled the Southeastern seaboard.
The Trial of the Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet. $13 adults/$11 children. May 30, June 2-5, 6,9,10 at 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.; June 11 at 5 p.m. The Powder Magazine, 79 Cumberland St. (843) 724-7295