Why I want Pirates Wanted (review)

Mark C. Marino
7 min readApr 26, 2024
Flyer for Pirates Wanted

In their latest offering, Last Call Theatre presents an immersive romp on a tall three-mast ship in the port of Los Angeles that shows how they have been honing their craft. See my previous reviews of The Collective, Abandoned, and Signals.

For over two years, Last Call Theatre has been my go-to company for immersive theatrical experiences in Los Angeles. Originally, I was looking for an Escape Room with actors, when Everything Immersive’s Katherine Yu pointed me toward Signals in the Hollywood Fringe. The immersive podcast No Proscenium called the show unfinished, but to me, unfinished meant I got to finish it with my family and our collective play and imagination. Now after 5 or show more productions, the troupe has proven developed and matured their unique take on this form that not only feels finished but also swabs the deck of ordinary theater with a truly enjoyable and moving mixture of levity, pathos, and play.

The American Pride, the setting of the immersive show, in LA harbor.
Captain Souvanna (Darica Louie), Aoife (Ashley Busenlener) and others greet we pirate wannabes.

Some minor spoilers follow.

The Premise

At the outset, we were greeted by several of the deck hands including Oats (Mads Durbin) and his parrot Charlemagne, who was a Siren cursed into parrot form. Both Charlemagne and his handler were delights to interact with. Real gems of the show, full of spirit and more than ready to play with even those of us who are a bit bizarre. (I introduced myself as The Pirate Queen’s Beard, later shortened to PQB or PB — not entirely embarrassing my daughter.)

Oats (Mads Durbin) and Charlemagne

Everything was stepped up: costumes by Kale Hinton, the acting, the setting of the ship — which so perfectly framed and yet divided the stage for little call-out scenes. Even check-in and check-out were stepped up. Oh, and the singing! That continues to be a treat, integrated so well into our seaside tale that it did not have that feeling of a set piece. More than one audience member commented to me about the creaking of the ship adding just the right ambience, perfectly suited to the tale — and the night and seagulls did their job swimmingly. Huge congrats to Last Call for making this setting happen, a dream creative lead Ashley Busenlener shared when I spoke with her after the previous show, The Harvest.

Me and Jenna ready to board!

Chaos Monkey no more?

I set out with my usual desire to make mischief in the show with the concession that I would not move or touch any props unless given permission from a cast member. I treat these as physical or formal affordances in the play — like the laws of physics in a video game, even though they are really more behavioral rules. In other words, even though moving props is possible, I treat those rules as though they are concrete rules out of deference to the storyworld.

After we stormed the ship, we we were told we could learn pirating skills from any of the crew members, filling out our skill cards like video game accomplishments or Disney autograph books. I went over and learned singing, followed by a lesson from Silas (Mikey Takla) in shipboard medicine. Silas gave us three choices of what they could teach. These seemed for flavor than story level decisions, which still felt rewarding. I should mention I’ve seen Mikey in a number of shows, and this was by far their most nuanced performance yet!

British naval officer Harry (Riley Cole), costume-maven Kale Hinton, troup member Mike DiNardo and a scarvy guest

After we introduced ourselves, Silas gave us our mission: Go ask the crew what they remember from the day the ship crashed. Eagerly we set off to interview crew members, pairing up for the task, and heard a variety of replies that felt like pieces of a combination lock solution. In other words, the replies did not focus on stories but on clues that were clearly part of some puzzle. We returned to Silas with our answer.

Before Silas could send us on anther mission, I found my mind and eyes wandering around the ship. I began to feel that familiar FOMO that I experienced most noticeably at Stardust. So, I found myself leaping off that quest cycle to go talk with other crew members.

The pirate captain Souvanna (Louie) did not have much to say to me and seemed a bit put off by my not having questions tied to a clear quest. However, once given permission, I started reading through the books beside her. I have a problem processing written information during these experiences (and maybe an aversion to reading during plays) but gathered something about the British Captain’s debts. Meanwhile, I’d lost sight of my daughter and her mission.

I continued to wander about speaking to various crew members but kept running aground for I did not really have anything to ask them, and they were best prepared for questions tied to the missions.

Eventually, I noticed some drama on the dock, featuring Silas and the pirate captain. Joining that scene, I got to see an ending that was full of emotion and delightful story resolution. I pieced together enough to get the gist, though I am sure much was lost on me.

On the way home, my daughter told me she thought my quest hopping was misguided and missed out on the best the show had to offer — a relationship with a character. “They want you to interact with them so you can build a relationship,” she explained to me. I like to think I am the game expert of the two of us, but as usual, I suspect she was right here. My aimless wandering felt less fruitful than it had during The Collective where it was a bit easier to pick up a new quest or just kibbitz with the characters… Not quite sure why. I suspect because the quests in The Collective were all tied to overall question of who should take over and who offed the Don. These shipboard quests seemed less interwoven. Hmm, I need to think about this more.

The Brooding Captain Draken (Shelby Ryan Lee)

Now, let me go back a bit to my favorite moment of wandering. At some point, I noticed the Captain Draken (Lee) unoccupied. I went over and sat next to him, I have found I much more enjoy standing next to these characters and chatting than facing them and interrogating them, not looking to them for answers but playing along side them in the character world. Standing or sitting beside them, looking out exudes more of a sense that I am a character creating with them rather than an audience member questioning them. That, I thoroughly enjoy.

In our brief but poignant exchange, the captain told me the most piteous tale of losing his wife and child at sea. I offered my sympathy. He finished with, “I hope that is something you never have to experience,” and walked off into the darkness of the night. That exiting line was brutal. I was gutted like a fish on the deck of that ship. And part of that feeling was not knowing what I should do next. And not knowing where my own daughter was. It was dark. Cold. Delicious.

So maybe I’m getting a sense of more of what I want. I understand the need for quests to organize player behavior especially with large groups of people who don’t otherwise know what to do and need some direction. But I think that quests appeal to one kind of audience member.

There’s another kind of audience member, a restless monkey, who really just wants to interact with the cast of characters, to hear their stories, to encounter the tales through interaction. I would rather play a game of Pirate dice with a crew member exchanging tales with no particularly goal or purpose other than enjoying time with them without the lingering feeling that I am somehow off track. I am not entirely sure whether a show can serve both kinds of play, except by opening the actors up to such potential audience member who is not coming to them with the quest questions but is on a mission to enjoy some time and space with them.

I am thinking of what I have heard about the Star Wars Galactic Cruiser. In those reviews, they talk of character/actors responding to play that the guests create — of moments where guests just wanted to be in the Star Wars universe. I realize we’re talking about a weekend rather than 2 and a half hour show, and a $5000 ticket rather than a $60, but then I wonder, what does it cost to allow for both free and directed play. Are there enough other players like me? And don’t get me wrong, if any group in LA can tackle this challenge, it’s Last Call.

Last Call is evolving the form into something truly delightful, and the chaos monkey may just be evolving as well.

Last Call is back at the Hollywood Fringe this summer with Reforged, which returns them to their SCP roots.



Mark C. Marino

writer/researcher of emerging digital writing forms. Prof of Writing @ USC, Dir. of Com. for ELO, Dir. of HaCCS Lab