Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fringe 2018 - Review - Whales - 5 stars

#mnfringe show 22 - Whales - @hitthelightsTC owned the whole Ritz Theatre space and the audience with shadow puppetry, punk rock sea shanty anthems, and a deconstruction of Moby Dick that was a hell of a lot of fun (doesn't sound like it should work, but it sure does) - 5 stars

The Fringe show Whales from Hit The Lights! Theater Co. pulls off a pretty neat trick.  It makes the classic Herman Melville novel Moby Dick fun, while also never forgetting how f**ked up the practice of killing whales for profit is, both then and now.  The audience still gets all the adventure, while also getting to feel conflicted about it afterward - and so it goes, back and forth, for the full Fringey hour.

“Don’t throw the harpoon!  Everybody throws the harpoon.  It’s just pretend.”

There’s also a punk rock feel to the whole thing - electric guitars, and bellowing out the lyrics of the various songs, everyone dressed in black.  The boisterous energy kicks in right away during the preshow ten minutes as the audience is filing in.  Free tattoos (ink stamps) of harpoons are placed on many a willing arm.  The cast is encouraging everyone to go get a drink from the bar in the lobby and bring it into the theater, because (of course) there’s a drinking game (or, Articles of Libation) projected on their viewing screen: when you see a whale, when you hear the words Twin Cities, when you see a ship, or see a ship sink (come to think of it, if you actually followed the rules of that drinking game, you’d have alcohol poisoning before the show was over).

“Bye, Shelly.”

The show, once it gets underway, is a much more interactive production than last year’s DungeonDungeon was such a marvel of music, live action and shadow puppetry that you didn’t mind just sitting and watching the whole time.  In Whales, the ensemble (Samantha Bain, Kristopher Dean, Claron Hayden, Carli Rhoades, Casey Scott Leach, and Mikayla Stanley) wants you to be a part of the fun, in between their signature shadow puppet/live action work - which is still both delightful/awe-inspiring, and completely silly.

“We. Are. Not. Done!” 

Sometimes among the shadow puppets there are word bubbles like “Thar she blows!” “Yes.” or “No.”  Sometimes the word bubble is just a picture of a white whale.  The sailing ships are very impressive in their detail, and then when they get news, the ship itself either gets very excited and hops up and down, or it shrugs, turns around and sails on.  The story of how Captain Ahab lost his leg is reenacted via shadow puppetry, with the water turning blood red.  Then a shadow sailor has a word bubble that says “Wow” and the whole audience laughs.  Human actors interact with the rippling fabric shadow serving as water, or a cutout of a crows nest on top of the ship’s mast.  A cycle of night and day turns like a wheel as the ship journeys on.  Even their credit sequence at the beginning is a doozy of projection work setting up the undersea kingdom.

“Everything you can imagine smearing dead whale oil on your face with.”

The details of Melville’s epic book, cataloging all the ins and outs of the whaling industry, are turned into random audience participation segments.  The Lay System Game Show brings four volunteers out of the audience to illustrate the hierarchy of the crew and how they all get paid, eventually, after the long voyage is over - assuming they survive.  Enormous dice are rolled to determine how long they’re at sea, how long it takes them to take on all the whale oil the ship can handle, whether they live or die, etc.  And then the final tally of profit is divvied up, with apple cider (“beer”) poured into cups in ever smaller increments for the crew’s shares.  A spool of rope is unfurled and run through the audience area of the theater to illustrate how long a baby whale, a mother whale, and finally Moby Dick himself all were.  Another four volunteers are brought up to reenact a whale killing, harpoon and all.  Guitarist Claron and crew member Samantha recount the Top Four most f**ked up things about hunting whales.  Two other crew members, one armed with a power drill, dismember a combination coconut/orange stand-in for a whale to explain how the whale is cut up for oil and blubber.

“We are part of the illumination industry.”

Hit The Lights! Theater Co. makes all of this look so effortless, it’s easy to forget how masterful they are at blending the music, live action and shadow puppetry.  Go to marvel at their artistry, or just have a hell of a lot of fun, or both.  Whales lets you do whatever you want.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Here's some handy links to reviews of 5 Star Shows, 4.5 Star Shows, 4 Star Shows, 3 Star Shows, and my full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

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