Pirates Are Awesome

jolly ship whizbangThis cultural moment belongs to pirates. Pirates of the Carribbean and Peter Pan are just the latest signals of the ascendancy of piracy among the eternal goofy pantheon of robots, ninjas, and monkeys.

Pirates have it all – cool hats, swords, and hooks for hands. They’ve got cannons, and cool catchphrases like “Arrrrrr!” and “Avast, ye scurvy dogs.” In real life, of course, pirates were probably nasty, horrible people, but through a lens of 300 years they just seem cute. All that raping and pillaging is like a really exuberant game of tag – they’re the ultimate ‘Boys will be boys.’

There’s also something sexually ambiguous about pirates, because they’re stuck in that sort of eternal adolescence. Think of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean – with his eyeshadow, mincing and flouncing all over. No women are allowed onboard ship – its bad luck – so who gets the pirate’s affections? Mermaids, of course, but also: cabin boys.

Which brings us to a show playing Friday nights at 10 p.m. at the Bowery Poetry Club: Jollyship the Whizbang: Sleepless Fishes. It’s a pirate-puppet musical. It’s awesome.

Okay, maybe it’s not awesome, but it’s great fun. It’s tapped into the inherent “Pirates are cool!” ethos. It’s a four-piece rock band, two puppeteers, and a big-ass pirate ship in the middle of the stage.

The story concerns Tommy, a young cabin boy on the pirate ship Jolly Whiz-Bang, sailing in search of Party Island. But delicate young Tommy doesn’t want a life of killing and cruelty, and he makes friends with the talking animals that the pirates enslave. Meanwhile, the captain struggles with his desire to be (ahem) much more than a father-figure to the boy.

It is also utterly ridiculous. Tommy is played by a clown doll. The captain has green skin and enormous teeth, and he’s prone to pronouncements like “Avast, ye scalawag. If ye had any understanding of adolescent psychology, you’d realize that the boy’s in what we call a transitional phase.”

Like most shows I’ve seen at the Bowery Poetry Club, Jollyship is lovably sloppy. Sometimes the curtain catches on the mast, or the mics don’t work. But it’s all okay – the audience is drinking, so they don’t mind, and the performers are obviously having fun with their semi-improvised dialogue, and it’s infectious. Call it the theater of low expectations – everything is so lo-tech here that a simple action like a puppet kicking his feet when he swims can elicit applause, and an ambitious act like sending a puppet over the audience on a wire seems like a more impressive piece of stagecraft than a chandelier collapsing on a Broadway stage.

And it helps that the songs fucking RAWK! There are plenty of rocking tunes and catchy lyrics: “You can’t sleep with the fishes!/ Because the fishes: they don’t sleep!/ They just dance all night and have fun/” Or “Dirty, dirty, dirty/ Scurvy, scurvy, scurvy,/ Dirty dirty scurvy scurvy: Pirate’s Love!”

The audience just wants to sing along.

This is ground-level theater. The script has problems – the second half makes almost no sense, with talking animals and underwater porn stars, and an unnaturally attractive 13-year-old cabin boy (“Cabin Boy Fever” is another great song). Its theater that makes you feel good. It has the feeling of “Hey let’s put on a show” – except that the performances are actually really tight – you don’t get that level of songs and elaborate sets without some hard work.

Maybe more shows should leave some deliberate holes in their performances – just to remind you that it is live theater, and we’re all in it together, and it’s not supposed to be perfect.

Or maybe it just works because pirates are cool. Anyway, check it out.

http://www.oojamadome.org/pirates.html

(next week’s show will feature special guest The Wau Wau Sisters)

Andy Horwitz

Andy Horwitz is the founder of Culturebot.org and works as a critic, curator, cultural producer and consultant through his company Applied Creativity, LLC. He is a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for his new research project, Ephemeral Objects: Art Criticism for the Post-Material World

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