Affair of Honour’s production of Karen Bassett’s drama Heroine opens in a desolate atmosphere in the aftermath of a pirate battle, which left me feeling trapped and terrified from the start. Suffice it to say that I was — if you’ll pardon the pirate pun — hooked.
Imprisoned for attacking a ship in Jamaica, Anne Bonny and Mary Read grow hungry, angry, and delirious. These legendary pirates fight their battles crossdressed as men, but for different reasons which Heroine illustrates with audacious, character-driven storytelling.
Vancouver-based actors Jackie T. Hanlin and Nathania Bernabe captured my attention with phenomenal performances, playing foils so vivid they could both sustain a one-woman show. Yet put together, it’s their chemistry that brings life to the static prison setting.
Bonny and Read, two polar opposite representations of femininity, are driven by personal histories and desires far more complicated than the genre types they embody. In their efforts to escape imprisonment, they learn life-altering truths about themselves and each other, riding a rollercoaster of conflict, understanding, and, eventually, solidarity.
A dozen finely choreographed sword combat sequences elevate both the drama and comedy in Heroine. Each act is broken up by action sequences that showcase innovative lighting and sound design. Still, director Mayumi Yoshida chooses to strip away these elements at times to let raw trauma emerge from the characters.
Although both pirates were victimized in their youth, it is Bonny who converts her rage and fear into a mischievous playfulness that goes too far, leading to uncomfortable reenactments of sexual violence. It is terrifying to watch, but important — and arguably empowering — to depict. It shows how oppression can breed violence.
Between hilarity and tragedy, every moment of Heroine is electrifying. Even without its masterful orchestration of design, choreography, and acting, the words that craft this story are enough to convey the battle of being human — and woman — with painful honesty.