Jolly Ship the Whiz Bang: Episode 5
Blinglab: Misadventures of Lewis and Clark, act I
As the audience poured into Someday Lounge, filling in the aisles around the perimeter, blocking exits, and packing the standing room at the back around the bar, my friend turned and said gruffly, “It’s a death trap in here.” I agreed. The fresh-cut wood smell of the barely completed venue, the electric twinkle lights twirled up with a paper swag strung above us, the construction paper and popsicle stick art project of a set, the crowd getting louder and tipsier as they sip on their cocktails, and the expectation that with pirates and/or rock stars there comes the threat that everything will eventually burst into flames.
Our story begins in 1763 (we know because it is projected in big, scripted numbers on the back wall of the stage), as Tom, a surly puppet with furrowed brow and little anchor graphic on his little puppet outfit, is left with the task of entertaining a little baby puppet, so cute wrapped in a little puppet blanket and inching above his puppet crib to get a better view. Tom begins recounting a tale of his youth, and thus, through song and dance we are whisked back in time (to 1712 or thereabouts). The lead singer asks us to imagine, that for tonight we forget our usual lives. “You high-paid lawyers, you administrative assistants (that’s me!), you art collectors. Forget yourselves. Tonight, we are all: Spanish princesses.” And with that we all hopped aboard Jolly Ship the Whiz Bang.
Tom is a fourteen-year-old captive, becoming sexually and politically aware, enraged at the way animals are treated on board (coaxed on board a ‘cruise ship,’ thinking they are off to a rousing game of ‘snooker’ when really they are on their way to be slaughtered). The sensitive Captain tries to reach out to the boy in his “transitional phase,” kicking off the icky sexual tension that will only amplify throughout the show.
The best scene takes place underwater (Tom kicking his little puppet legs to stay afloat). Tom is forced to walk the plank, but instead of meeting his doom, he joins up with his new underwater mollusk “friend.” You know, that “friend” that inspired him to turn all bad boy in the previous scene. As Tom proclaimed, “He’s not a mollusk. He’s an artist and he understands me.” Tom unfortunately discovers that his “friend” has sold him into sexual slavery. He was coaxed underwater to be the newest star of a series of underwater sea creature porn. (Is there a specific term for bestiality with marine mammals? Or crustaceans?)
And so on, and so forth. A clever musical number here, some death by scoundrel there, some nasty adult humor dressed in children’s clothing throughout. All in all, a fun time. The Jolly Ship crew succeeds in creating a spontaneous, slapped together, anything can happen aesthetic. Yet, I imagine the show is pieced together scrupulously.
Going into the show, I wondered how (if at all) Jolly Ship would breath life into the tired pirate nonsense that has been so thoroughly played out. It seems everyone I know has come and gone through a pirate fascination phase. I can’t count the number of pirate parties I’ve been to in the last few years. The Portland Pirate Festival is next weekend, even. Though Jolly Ship included a few groaner moments, and the dialogue and comic timing lagged a bit, I think the fact that they didn’t take the piracy angle too seriously was a saving grace. The ship and casual references to raping and pillaging provided a context, but the story was so absurd it could have worked with any premise.
They performed Episode 9 (a battle of the shanty bands) the next night at the WORKS. It worked well, if not better, in this environment. I think I appreciated the ability to be distracted by conversation, step out for a drink, and come back to the show.
I went to Blinglab’s Misadventures of Lewis & Clark last night, curious to see how these puppet shows would compare. While I was impressed with the set construction, sound design, and puppets themselves I did not hesitate to bolt at intermission. The production was completely lewd, unsophisticated, and with minimal comedic sensibility. While both Blinglab and Jolly Ship the Whiz Bang featured inter-species puppet sex, homoerotic seduction, and otherwise enjoyed living up to their “mature audiences” warning, Jolly Ship at least retained some endearing qualities in its characters. Maybe the second half of Misadventures was a strong comeback (I’ll never know), but Blinglab failed to offer anything more than a fucked-up retelling of our fucked-up national history. The personalities of Lewis and Clark are not really part of our cultural awareness. So, it’s difficult to find the humor in a dicey characterization of these figures. Southpark can put Saddam Hussein in bed with the devil and it’s hilarious, because we already have a cemented idea of his character. When Lewis is dressed up as a sultan and attempts to bone Clark it’s just stupid. We don’t have any preconceived understanding of them as individuals. Opportunity to make a clean break? I’m out.
posted by Kirsten Collins