The Independent EyeDrake's Drum
Drake’s Drum

On his historic round-the-world voyage, Francis Drake put his friend Sir Thomas Doughty on trial for sedition, mutiny and black magic. A death sentence. Then the prosecutor and the condemned sat down privately to a sumptuous meal. What did they talk about? And in another time zone, a young woman drives to L.A. on a business trip, but finds herself haunted by Drake and Doughty, munching French fries.

Written by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
Directed & designed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller
Costumes by Cynthia Beckley
Scene painting by Brino Ism
Two acts; 2m/2w/unit set.

Produced by Sonoma County Repertory in collaboration with The Independent Eye, premiering Sept. 29, 2005 at Sonoma County Repertory (Sebastopol, CA). 11 performances.

Drake’s Drum, the latest foray into historical surrealism by Sebastopol playwrights Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, is the kind of show my teenage daughter calls “a brain play.” Crammed with ideas, ornamented with thick-bodied dialogue as rich as a chocolate-dipped cheese cake, Drake’s Drum will certainly be deemed “difficult” by some and thoroughly thrilling by others.

Like the best of Stoppard, Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets and even Shakespeare, Drake’s Drum is a play that makes certain demands on its audience. Those who want their theater served up in nice, easy-to-digest pieces will surely find it not to their tastes, despite the supremely fine acting by a quartet of first-rate actors. Those who, like myself, actually enjoy having their minds exhaustively rearranged upon leaving the theater, will most likely want to head right back for a second helping.

. . . . With all the talk of patriotism, the blind allegiance to leaders, a warlike voyage that does not turn out to be the one its soldiers were told it would be, a captain who claims to read no books but the Bible and who proudly defends his responsibility to his “investors,” and the repetitions of Drake’s motto “God, Country and Profit,” the political parallels to our present situation are fairly obvious.

To pull of this kind of absurdist political tomfoolery takes a strong cast, and the actors of Drake’s Drum are extraordinary across the board. Phillips continues to demonstrate his flexibility, playing Doughty with the right mix of outrage, civility and humor, and Cole, as Elizabeth, manages to be both whimsical and slightly frightening, which also works to describe Drake’s Drum itself, a play that could easily linger in your mind for days after.

—David Templeton, North Bay Bohemian (Santa Rosa, CA), Oct. 5, 2005

Drake and Doughty dine on a McDonalds Happy Meal and Guinness while debating issues of faith. Underneath all this throbs a soundscape with sound effects and music providing an emotional geography for the drama. This is the setting for Drake’s Drum, an exciting world premiere production playing at the Sonoma County Repertory in Sebastopol. . . . .

The dialogue is witty and quick, and the cross currents of commentary from the two women punctuate and add to it. Conrad Bishop, who co-authored the play with his wife Elizabeth Fuller, also directed the wonderful actors. . . . . Only John O’Keefe, another Bay Area writer of sharp historical plays, or perhaps British playwright Tom Stoppard has produced such intellectual, insightful theater. Like Stoppard (in Arcadia and Indian Ink, for instance) Bishop and Fuller cross time and geographical lines effortlessly. . . . .

If you like intellectual, original theatre, don’t miss this production.

—Ron Singer, Sonoma Sun (Sonoma, CA), Oct. 6, 2005

As the story opens, Drake already has tried Doughty for mutiny and treason, and condemned him to death. Bishop and Fuller built their play around the historical fact that the two seafaring soldiers dined privately together the night before Doughty’s execution.

History doesn’t record what the two men said, but the playwrights imagine a lively debate about God, country, profit and empire, punctuated by Marcie’s asides and commentary by Queen Elizabeth I (Lois Pearlman), who looms in the background, high above the action.

The basic story is the stuff of Becket or A Man for All Seasons, with Doughty speaking his mind and conscience to spite the powerful Drake, not yet knighted but soon to be. . . . . Their scenes are dramatic and skillfully done. Their dialogue has an authentic Elizabethan sound, nearly as eloquent as Shakespeare at times but less ornate. Doughty’s anguish at facing death, without really understanding why, is quite real. Drake is indeed larger than life, but believably flawed.

The premiere production, directed by Bishop, is a collaboration between the Sonoma County Repertory Theater and the Bishop-Fuller experimental troupe Independent Eye. The interaction between this new combination of actors and authors, each well established locally, is stimulating and gratifying.

The show employs some devices common in experimental theater, with mixed results. When Drake and Doughty speak in unison to announce each scene of the play, or course in the dinner, it feels forced. But Fintushel’s stylized movements, during Drake’s recollection of a battle, are very effective. . . . . Drake’s Drum is not exactly a drama, or completely a comedy, but rather an exploration of ideas, an illuminating discussion, which does have value. Even though the show is essentially a staged debate, the production is eminently theatrical, with wonderfully detailed period costume by Cynthia Rose Beckley and an inventive set and moody lighting by Bishop. Fuller provides atmospheric sound design and composed the show’s ambient music.

—Dan Taylor, The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA), Oct. 7, 2005