This 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. Theyve 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 theyre the ultimate Boys will be boys.
Theres also something sexually ambiguous about pirates, because theyre 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 pirates 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. Its a pirate-puppet musical. Its awesome.
Okay, maybe its not awesome, but its great fun. Its tapped into the inherent Pirates are cool! ethos. Its 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 doesnt 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 hes prone to pronouncements like Avast, ye scalawag. If ye had any understanding of adolescent psychology, youd realize that the boys in what we call a transitional phase.
Like most shows Ive seen at the Bowery Poetry Club, Jollyship is lovably sloppy. Sometimes the curtain catches on the mast, or the mics dont work. But its all okay the audience is drinking, so they dont mind, and the performers are obviously having fun with their semi-improvised dialogue, and its 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 cant sleep with the fishes!/ Because the fishes: they dont sleep!/ They just dance all night and have fun/” Or Dirty, dirty, dirty/ Scurvy, scurvy, scurvy,/ Dirty dirty scurvy scurvy: Pirates 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 lets put on a show except that the performances are actually really tight you dont 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 were all in it together, and its not supposed to be perfect.
Or maybe it just works because pirates are cool. Anyway, check it out.
(next weeks show will feature special guest The Wau Wau Sisters)