“Whale Song” deserves a larger audience than was present Saturday night.
The utterly unique play about a young woman destined to turn into a bowhead whale is the type of big-swing, singular effort that anyone with a soft spot for unlikely visions should support.
By that metric, I’d argue the concept alone means the play written by Cathy Tagnak Rexford and directed by Madeline Sayet deserves to sell out Madison Square Garden.
Uniformly strong performances from the cast mean that it absolutely should draw full theaters in Juneau.
Just about every character in “Whale Song” gets a soliloquy, monologue, grand proclamation from the aisles, death scene, post-death visitation or all of the above.
The cast truly made the most of it.
Erin Tripp was feisty and brought impressive physicality as Ani, a young woman selected by fate to transform into a whale. Evan Rothfeld was supremely likable as the poetry-spouting Lukas. Erika Stone was both sincere and severe as the Midwife. Ty Yamaoka was a completely necessary grounding force as Nukaaluk. Jennifer Bobiwash kept Natalie sympathetic even as she gradually became a “Captain Planet” villain. Tai Yen Kim was impressive as Agviq, the whale destined to marry a human and also sort of the whale world’s Sonny Corleone. Both Todd Hunter and Jane Lind gave their whale elders a regal sense of authority and warmth.
Frank Henry Kaash Katasse and Ashleigh Watt excelled in their shared time on stage together as Ani’s father, Jack, and Nayak, a whale priestess apprentice.
The pair meddle in human-whale relations in a relatively lighter subplot and drew genuine, loud laughs.
I can’t know if Saturday’s bitter cold kept some ticket holders from claiming their seats, but they missed out on more than just an out-there idea and praise-worthy performances.
As the character descriptions and smattering of plot summary might suggest, “Whale Song” is a thoroughly bananas affair in the most positive way.
After seeing the play, I immediately called my fiancee to try to regale her with what I just saw, and I must have sounded like I was recounting a prog rock album.
Just to be clear, the whales aren’t the hang up. Even if half of the characters weren’t whales, “Whale Song” would still include elements of dimension hopping, see-sawing tone and spectral visitation.
It rules, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I won’t really attempt to summarize the plot, because it seems sort of ancillary to Ani’s journey toward destiny. And as one character says near “Whale Song’s” beginning, “We all know exactly how this ends.”
However, I will note that along the way there are a couple of F-bombs and a (fully clothed) sex scene, so the show might not be for the youngest audiences.
What I will dwell on is the play’s dialogue that fluctuates from casual conversation to David Milch-like monologues to longer passages that are sometimes literally recitations of poems.
Everything feels incredibly important but only semicoherent. At times “Whale Song” follows dream logic and sometimes, characters are actually acting out dreams.
Here are some sample phrases I jotted down Saturday night, “The challenge of a lifetime has never been easy,” “What life within me returned to its place of origin,” “Suddenly, my breath escapes me,” “I fear we will both cease to exist and become nothing more than a story,” “That which we find familiar speaks to who we are,” “Things are not as they seem. Reality is an illusion,” “I am a conduit of customs of two nations, and you are the melody.”
I appreciate that not everyone may be as prone to loving poetic dialogue and fourth-wall shattering addresses to the audience, but if any of this buffet of surreality sounds appetizing, you’ll likely love “Whale Song.”
If not, I’d still recommend seeing it, because I couldn’t imagine getting a chance to see something exactly like it again.