Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: A Whale of a Tale

Finding the light in grief may seem impossible. Discovering hope after loss may seem improbable. But letting go tends to be a very cathartic moment for people. In Claire Kiechel's Whale Song, a woman grieving after the loss of her father attempts to regain control just as a whale suddenly takes control of New York City.
When Maya Swan's father mysteriously is killed by a whale in a tank, Maya takes a long journey down the grief river. But coming to terms with reality is never quite that easy. Whale Song is a stunning play about grief and letting go. The play captures the struggle of moving on while finding light and heart in death. With a wonderful theatrical lens to keep the play interesting, Kiechel uses some wonderful devices to navigate Maya's world allowing the subject to not land too heavy. With a poignant and innovative script at its disposal, Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions showcased it with very barebones production value. Kiechel’s script thrives on innovation and theatricality, something director Jake Lipman, who wore many more hats on the production, was not able to evoke. The material was present but the execution was poor. Simply by creating a world through light or transforming the space rather than leaving the different locations could have aided the show but the limitations hindered the overall picture. Additionally, the pacing was slow, preventing the intimate moments to land the attention they deserved.
As Maya Swan, Shelley Little explored the spectrum of emotions, adding little tinges of light humor through her depression. Little’s ability to find laughter was beautiful, but the rest of her performance tended to be a tad monotonous. Matt Sydney as Shep the Motherfucking Drummer offered a surprisingly delightful performance. Sydney gave the wise stoner heart and depth. Sydney and Little’s scenes were some of the strongest of the show, especially their last one. Jared Shirkey as Mark, Swan’s boyfriend, was the guy everyone would want to be with. Why Maya would want to let Shirkey's perfectly charming Mark go is crazy. Shirkey was every bit charming and sincere. Brady Adair played an abundant amount of roles, many of whom were guests to Lipman’s reporter. Adair was funny but many of his bits seemed the same. He’s whimsical persona did not lend itself well when he had to play James Swan.
With so much to do, Jake Lipman needed a little more focus in the director’s chair. Lipman did use the restraints of the space to her advantage, utilizing the doors of the Bridge Theater to great worth. Lipman's staging was subject to some questionable choices including her own character's angled moments while “on tv.” This moment specifically shut her off to part of the audience unable to see her. With an intimate space to work with, Lipman kept Maya’s two worlds, her apartment and school, on stage simultaneously, again cutting off the audience to part of the action. The very beige set wanted to be blue to really capture the mood of Maya's world. While it may have been too "on point" for some, any shade of blue would have been more visually pleasing than the dreary beige that Maya and Mark’s costumes blended into.
Whale Song is a stunning script that requires a little more than a basic production. With almost all the pieces in place, Whale Song had the potential for something beautiful. But don’t fret, this piece will live for a long time.