Los Angeles Theater Review: MOBY ALPHA (Charles at the Hollywood Fringe Festival)

Post image for Los Angeles Theater Review: MOBY ALPHA (Charles at the Hollywood Fringe Festival)

by Jason Rohrer on June 29, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


This show made me wish I had chosen to sit through Lost Moon Radio’s Million Dollar Hair again. If this sounds like faint praise, it is; I did not enjoy Million Dollar Hair.  But Moby Alpha, as conceived and performed by Seattle sketch comics Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman, is unfunny on a more fundamental level than Million Dollar Hair is unfunny.  A one-hour-and-change two-man Moby-Dick set in outer space, Moby Alpha has the more original conceit.  Lost Moon Radio has the edge in performance and character creation and just plain chops.  Moby Alpha wins the props competition, with a pair of impressive LED-lit space helmets.  What the two shows share is a half-assedness universal in my Fringe Festival experience this year.  Writing, folks.  Start and end there.

Watching Armstrong and Stockman, collectively known as Charles, I blamed the Pacific Northwest for curating yet another inoffensive, essentially featureless exhibit of humanity as time-killer.  That’s unfair and silly, as my own region is second to none in the churning out of bland entertainments.  My theater companion said it better: “Well, that was an hour that felt like two.”

CharlesPresentsMobyAlpha(Charles)Opening with an extended bit about the unwieldy nature of pinpointing a stardate at light speed is a dangerous way to place an audience in the show’s universe.  The bit underlines the dissimilarity of Herman Melville’s painstakingly metaphorical art and the explicit banality of much pop culture, but the evidence here suggests that this idea is worth a line, not five minutes of repetitive routine.  Charles sells Moby Alpha as an amusement for nerds, and I surely qualify; I grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars and all that junk, and I read Moby-Dick once in school and once for fun.  But familiarity with the object of parody is not enough to stimulate my appreciation; pointing out trends or tendencies is not per se saying something worthwhile about them. The parody has to supply insight into the object, a point of view, a purpose.  Every good idea this show gets (and there are a couple; HAL-9000 as a navel-gazing goth poet is a wonderful concept) is run into the ground before I can laugh.

moby_alphaIn general this show is far more interested in sci-fi minutiae than in the traditions of epic literature – there’s about a ten to one ratio of Hollywood to Melville here.  The Moby-Dick references never progress much beyond mispronunciations of the name Pequod.  Ishmael is called Ishmael, but Starbuck is an android named Starbot with an Isaac Asimov obsession.  Queequeg is Queequeg, but this time he’s a Martian who everyone assumes is a cannibal, which really gets on his nerves.  Energy-harvester Captain Ahab has it in for a ball of white gas that once bit off his leg, or something.  Armstrong and Stockman invest a lot more energy in allusions to movies about things that go wrong during space travel.  The characters can hardly transport themselves from one ship to another without meeting Kane from Alien or Dave and HAL from 2001Gravity is referenced in the pre-show cell-phone announcement – among the show’s funniest writing, still this bit counts as a failure, because I’ve never before seen an admonition to turn off cell phones inspire a woman to take out a cell phone and check her fucking messages as actors took stage, which did happen right next to me until I stopped it.  (Lady, cut your toenails too.  Jesus Christ.)

And how depressing it is to be trapped in a room full of people who seem to be enjoying a show that leaves me cold.  My companion noted “how easy the audience was,” and indeed, the crowd had its heels behind its ears for this one.  A Santa Monica Boulevard littered with empty Bud Light cans is just one of the gifts Fringe bestows upon participants; another is crowds mildly lit, eyes aglaze and hungry for a good time.  And goddamn if they won’t insist that they’ve found one even in the unlikeliest of rooms, such as the one at The Complex from which one can listen to other, louder shows while watching Moby Alpha.

photos courtesy Charles

Moby Alpha
part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival
The Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Boulevard
ended on Saturday, June 28, 2014
for more info, visit www.MobyAlpha.com or Hollywood Fringe

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