Casey Dorman of Providence was walking to work on the stone wharfs of Rockport, Massachusetts one day this summer when he crossed paths with Johnny Depp, fresh off another box-office conquest as Captain Jack Sparrow in the latest of the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
“I’M NOT AFRAID OF THE ATTENTION” Dorman at the Providence River.
For Dorman, dressed head-to-toe in authentic pirate regalia, this was no ordinary brush with celebrity. Historical piracy happens to be Dorman's religion, making Sparrow a sort of sacrilege.
It's "ass-lancingly annoying," Dorman says of Sparrow's ambiguous, inauthentic accent. "We're not Welch."
Dorman is president, CEO, and visionary-in-chief for the Rhode Island Pirate Players, an organization dedicated to 17th and 18th Century New England piracy.
Playing the role of Captain John Atwood, a fictional figure, he is a full-time re-enactor, educator, and living historian. But that description doesn't quite do him justice.
He is also a phenomenal storyteller, gifted showman, and voluble dispenser of high seas trivia. A man wholly committed to his cause.
And here he was, on the wharf, with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to confront the faux-pirate and his cornball Disney brand. But the moment, in an instant, had passed.
"I said 'good morning, he said 'good morning,' and we went about our day," Dorman says.
Hollywood would go unreformed. But no matter, there was other treasure to be had.
'THE REAL DEAL'
When I meet Dorman on a late-summer evening at Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street, he is dressed in full costume, en route to another rendition of Dead Men's Tales, the public walking tour he conducts in Newport. It's a raucous mix of pirate storytelling and shanty singing, both educational and entertaining.
He wears a wool tricorn hat, black bifocals, canvas breeches, and a leather-strapped arm satchel. "I'm dressed like this because, realistically, I'm not afraid of attention and it's one of the best marketing tools out there."
He knows piracy like a sommelier knows fine wine, and willingly explains the difference between English and French pirates — "Bloods and Crips" — or rattles off a pirate factoid: the career of a typical Golden Age pirate lasted just four years, he tells me, but legendary Rhode Island captain Thomas Paine was at it for 40.
After ordering a large iced coffee, he draws out a pack of Camel Blues, and stops to compliment a customer's Jolly Roger T-shirt as we exit the cafe. Outside, a woman shouts at him from underneath an umbrella.
"Hey, did you just get off the boat?"
"Which one?" Dorman responds, unenthusiastically.
"Up at Plymouth."
He pauses — not inclined, it seems, to point out that it was Pilgrims, not pirates, that landed at Plymouth — then tells her, plainly, "No, I was aboard the Formidable, actually."
The Formidable, docked at Rockport, is the 50-passenger, 50-ton replica square-rigged tall ship that Casey sails upon five days a week, working as a deckhand and singing shanties to the public. Rather than commute from Providence, Dorman holes up in a musty aft cabin on board and sleeps on a pull-down plank.
Russ Tryder, creator of the Formidable's pirate tours, enlisted Dorman after recognizing his fervor for the subject. "Casey's the real deal," Tryder says. "An 82-year-old woman just told me 'he is gorgeous and has beautiful eyes!' Casey looks the part."