Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review: An Intergalactic Whale Tale

Quite possibly one of the most infamous opening lines in all of literature is “Call me Ishmael.” It starts the epic whale tale “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. But let’s be honest with ourselves, you probably haven’t actually read it the epic metaphor-laden high sea adventure but you probably know the plot and some of the iconic characters. “Moby Dick” has been adapted for the screen numerous times, but how do you tell it on stage? Place it in the future and transport it to space! Duh! Written and performed by Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman, Moby Alpha is a space retelling of Herman Melville’s drama where the only source of light is through LED space helmets.
photo by Neil Muscott
With the high seas being replaced by deep space, Moby Alpha reunites the infamous crew of the Pequod, giving them a bit of a makeover, as Captain Ahab hunts the legendary Moby Alpha. Rather than a narrated reciting of Ahab’s metaphorical journey through Ishmael's eyes, Armstrong and Stockman portray the crew and other notable encounters. To assist the audience in tracking characters, Armstrong and Stockman pair each of their characters with a specific helmet color. Even if you don’t know the source material, it’s easy to grasp onto the individuals. Ishmael is a young crewmember paired up with the maybe-cannibalistic Martian Queequeg. Ahab is in the cockpit with Starbot, a take off of chief mate Starbuck. And it keeps going. Armstrong offered a little more variance to his characters than Stockman but you can’t deny the reciprocity the duo had. The narrative that Armstrong and Stockman honors Melville yet infuses a strong essence of science fiction. They drop in references that sci-fi fans are likely to grasp instantly. Those who don’t know them, well, you’ll enjoy them for what they are.
What makes Moby Alpha a catch is the use of the helmets. Timing is everything and the LED colorscape that were the helmets elevated the comedy. They were simply fascinating. Moby Alpha is an example of necessary spectacle. Had the helmets not been what they were, Moby Alpha would likely have been a generic comedic adaptation of a boring book. The writing and comedy would not have been strong enough to carry the show. Thankfully the brilliance of lighting made it something worth seeing.