Swashbucklers, swordsmen come to hook Greensboro

by Amy Kingsley

There’s a pirate ship buried hatch-deep in sand at Triad Stage. The Queen Anne’s Revenge, the vessel belonging to the outlaw Blackbeard, has crashed ashore on Ocracoke Island, spilling its crew of peg-legged scalawags onto the stage.For most of the men, Ocracoke – and North Carolina – are foreign soil. But for at least three actors playing more than half a dozen characters, the crash brings them back to home turf in Greensboro.Lelund Durond Thompson plays Black Ceasar, a slave-turned-pirate who joins Blackbeard in his maritime mayhem. Thompson graduated from NC A&T University in 2003 and enrolled in a graduate program at the Case-Cleveland Playhouse later that year. He’s making his first professional trip back to the Triad since graduation, and debuting the sword skills he picked up in his MFA program.”My character has the opportunity to engage in some fierce sword fighting,” Thompson says. “He’s come from a place that he doesn’t want to go back to.””Live free or die trying,” adds another actor, Michael Tourek.”Yeah,” Thompson says. “Put that in there like I said it.”Thompson credits Triad Stage with inspiring him to attend graduate school, a decision he made after seeing several plays at the theater and noticing that most of the actors held advanced degrees. So he got his, moved to New York, and joined a community of professional actors.As for Tourek, he’s a newcomer by North Carolina standards – he and his wife moved here in 2005 – but already a veteran of two Preston Lane-Laurelyn Dossett productions, two years of Beautiful Star and last year’s remount of Brother Wolf at the Appalachian Summer Arts Festival.Tourek, who will be playing Israel Hands, has only performed in plays created through collaboration between Preston Lane and Laurelyn Dossett. Brother Wolf, their inaugural collaboration, was the first play Tourek saw at Triad Stage after he moved down from Brooklyn.”It’s not uncommon for Preston to say, ‘Okay, get your scripts and pencils’ and do some rewriting with us. There’s no ego. He’s always open to suggestions and edits. His writing is not the Bible.”But sometimes it’s about the Bible. In Beautiful Star, Tourek played Noah, who, while in the process of sorting the animals, pointed to a friend in a long white beard.”And there’s a billy goat,” he said.Which was a joke aimed at his friend, Allan Edwards, a star in NC Shakespeare Festival’s Christmas Carol, who was in the audience that night. Edwards had been attending Triad Stage performances and auditions since the theatre’s inception in 2001. Earlier this season, he made his Triad Stage debut in Mrs. Warren’s Profession.”You could call me a representative of the established theater community that was here before Triad Stage,” Edwards says.More than a representative, given his annual reprisal of Scrooge – a distinction that gives him local celebrity status. But Edwards says he doesn’t think the crowds that flock to see him in High Point every year will necessarily come over to Greensboro to see what he’s up to at Triad Stage.”I don’t think I have a following that way,” he says. “I hope that my work at the festival wasn’t a liability for me. It’s possible that someone might recognize me and say ‘Oh, that’s Scrooge, and he’s a pirate!'”Audiences might be more flummoxed by the character Edwards played in the previous scene. The actor has five roles that include an old sailor and drunken priest. The show features 19 actors and almost 80 characters plus a backing band. It’s the largest ensemble in Triad Stage history.”I like that sort of epic style,” Edwards says, “Where the audience gets the impression that they’re meeting a world full of people.”Thompson says rehearsals with the full cast have been a lot of fun.”A lot of theaters, because of budget cuts, have been going smaller,” he says. “But this one is big and everyone seems to be enjoying it.”