Drama Talk & Drinks: Project Ahab – “We are so close to you”

We are all about going on adventures. Going to Berkeley to see a show described as “A new musical about how a band of hippies, mystics and visionaries changed the world” at a historic venue known as the “little castle” definitely qualified. So this weekend DT&D saw Project Ahab; or, Eye of the Whale, which is Central Works 48th world premiere (Central Works only does world premieres so that racks up the numbers).

Photo by J. Norrena


Brittany: When I saw the description that it was a musical I was a little bit like “Okay, so this is like an environmentalist musical? I guess that worked for Hair?” but I was worried it was going to be kind of weird. I actually thought that the way they used music worked really well.

Katie: Some of the songs for me were really nice. The female leads were wonderful singers!

B: They did a good job with their use of AV too. It was really cool when she took a picture that it showed up as a projection.That was a really neat way to put us in a very different space.

K: The only problem was they trained us that when she took a picture, and we heard that clicking sound, a projection would show up. They would put up the projection a few times, but then they’d keep taking pictures but stop putting up the projection. I started watching the audience look after every time they heard that click, and then nothing would be there and people looked disappointed. I know I was.

B: Yeah I wish they either showed photos each time she clicked the camera or just left a photo up there if they thought it was too distracting to keep switching them.

K: The other thing that I struggled with, was their wordy monologues. I got lost. I am sure part of it was where we were sitting. They didn’t do a great job blocking for a thrust stage. There were so many times they had their back to us and we couldn’t see them, or they were blocked by another actor. It’s general admission too, so you can’t guarantee where you are going to sit unless you get there early.

B: I felt the same. They would get lost in their own monologues. The songs would move it along, and the interactions would move it along, but when a monologue started they would hit a wall. They’d go on a tangent about the clouds, and stars, and whales, which was beautiful, but it made the show lose momentum.

K: The only person that made a strong connection with other characters was Cree (Sam Jackson). There were a few scenes with her that really sucked me in. Cree was my favorite. So natural. She wasn’t up there acting at us. She was reacting to what was happening around her.

B: I would watch her in a play all day.

K: One thing they did that really “get my goat”, as they say, was the extreme slow motion fight scene. I mean, we are right here. We are so close to you. I thought they were joking at first.

B: Yeah, that was awkward . . . but with that said, I was never bored and there was actually a lot I enjoyed.

The Verdict: Do you happen to be going to Berkeley in the next few weeks and want to go to a castle like venue built in 1927 and see a world premiere of an innovative folksy musical? We found the adventure for you! If you answered no to that question, then we say this isn’t quite worth the trip. This piece had some great moments, and it was an interesting venue, but still has some kinks to work out.

The Drama Talk: This is the environmentalist musical version of Moby Dick. Instead of going after a whale, they are going after a whaling ship. Moby Dick is a hard book because it’s long and poetic. It allows itself very flowery, super descriptive, long asides. Given the fact that the playwright borrows heavily from the book’s plot, we assume they were going for similar flourishes of language as well. However, there is a reason that a lot of people don’t read Moby Dick. Melville’s musings can lose people. The actors were so involved with the language and what was going on with their own characters that they weren’t connecting with the other actors on stage. It felt like they were acting at each other instead of with each other.

The Drinks: The venue is in the middle of Berkeley-college-kid-central. To avoid the college night life, like the 30 year old curmudgeons we are, we went to an old hotel bar called Henry’s a couple of blocks away. It was a perfect place to debrief, since it had mostly people over the age of 40 and plenty of open tables. Stick to beer or wine though, the bartender had to look up how to make a Moscow mule. If you want to get crazy with the college kids, we saw them all going into Kipps.

Project Ahab; Or Eye of the Whale runs through August 23rd at Central works in the Berkeley City Club. Tickets are available on the Central Works website for $28. Tickets at the door can be purchased for $15-28 sliding scale. Pay what you can nights are every Thursday.

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