BWW Review: Horse Head Theatre Swallows A Whale Of A Project In THE WHALE; OR MOBY-DICK
I was swallowed by a whale last night.
It was big and white and round, like a dome glowing by the banks of the Buffalo Bayou, perched in front of the silos. It happened just after the blood-red sun sank beneath the Houston skyline and shadows fell across the steaming city.
Okay, that didn't really happen. But Horse Head Theatre makes you wonder...what if...?
That may be the the essence of this sparkler of a company; the ability and curiosity to take an idea and bounce it around like a child's ball. Written by Timothy N. Evers and, of course, Herman Melville, THE WHALE; OR, MOBY-DICK is a fresh take on theatrical artistry and it feels like an honor to see this project come to fruition.
Let us meet our protagonist and host for the evening: Philip is a bedraggled musician, having been swallowed off a Pirate Party boat in Galveston where he had a gig. Philip has attempted to get the whale to barf him out, and while his attempts have been unsuccessful, he continues to strive for freedom from the giant mammal. A copy of the book falls from the whale's blowhole and a bargain is proposed: The whale would like Philip to reenact Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Philip thinks this may be his ticket out. If he gives the whale what he wants, he'll let him go, surely? Philip launches into the story, dropping the initial audience-inclusive style and immersing himself into the classic story.
Thankfully, the story has been trimmed down dramatically; this is a one-hour show, after all. Hays conceived and developed the show, while Evers penned the script. Both artists deserve high praise for being able to whittle down a whale of a book, preserving the passion and core of the story while having to let go of parts that wouldn't serve this particular theatre production.
Directed by Jacey Little, one of the strengths of THE WHALE; OR, MOBY DICK is our protagonist. No, not Ishmael, but the actor Philip Hays. Hays is a pleasure to watch with his loose, childlike quality, tinged with an affable, unassuming vibe that just makes you smile. His performance in Stark Naked's Stage Kiss earlier this year had me giggling nonstop, and his performance here is impressive in a different way; he is commanding, multi-faceted and passionate as he portrays various characters from the revered classic Moby Dick.
The lighting and sound effects serve to create a moody, haunting environment, cocooning the audience in the belly of the whale. Clint Allen's inspired projection art is one of the stars of the evening, along with Kevin Holden and Troy Stanley's construction and design of the ramshackle and appropriately gloomy set that gives Hays plenty to play with.
In the end, is Philip expelled from the whale? I'll keep that secret to myself. I will say that the show left me feeling a little unfulfilled, I think because there isn't enough at stake. Yes, a man is stuck in a whale, and that's a big deal, but we know almost nothing about Philip. Does he have a family who is waiting and worried about him? A girlfriend with whom is madly in love? A goal he always dreamed of reaching that will be forever unrealized if he doesn't get out of the whale? I found that I didn't care that much about the outcome one way or the other. Creating a backstory to the character would create higher stakes, but would also add tremendous length to the play, creating a different kind of show.
Horse Head Theatre always embraces the new, the outlandish, and the unexpected. They are known for discovering creative settings for their productions and THE WHALE; OR, MOBY DICK definitely answers the call for original design and venue. While I didn't love the show, I can appreciate the imaginative forces that went into creating this off-beat and unprecedented theatre experience.
THE WHALE; OR, MOBY-DICK runs July 29- August 15 at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership Silos
For tickets: http://www.getswallowed.com/
Photo Credit: Logan Sebastian Beck