Prior to the world premiere of Boise Contemporary Theater's Narwhal! Unicorn of the Sea, details about the play were scarce, other than it is a comedy set in a submarine with the unlikely name of DSV Lugubrious. Said submarine's crew was in search of the mating habits of narwhals.
What scant details were available suggested that this third collaboration of BCT Education Director Dwayne Blackaller and BCT Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark would be cutesy and adolescent. And it's certainly those things. But cliches like "laugh-out-loud funny" fall far short of adequately describing how hilarious Narwhal! is--or how savvy.
Dr. Diana Richter (Carie Kawa) is a marine biologist who has never left her island home: Terrified of depths the way some people have a fear of heights, she took correspondence courses to earn her Ph.D. After finding a message in a bottle from her Jacques Cousteau-esque grandfather with a clue to the location of the mysterious narwhal mating grounds, Richter joins the ditzy sailor Xander Oxley (Dwayne Blackaller) and the cantankerous Capt. Barnabas Crock, played to perfection by Matthew Cameron Clark, aboard the aforementioned Lugubrious. Their path isn't easy; they must dodge Swedish scientific vessels, dive under Arctic ice, grudgingly accept the advice of Richter's mantis shrimp spirit guide and combat oxygen deprivation to reach the mysterious Horned Hollow.
Blackaller and Clark have used self-referential humor, double entendres and the charm of the wink and nod before in A Nighttime Survival Guide and The Uncanny Valley; and in Narwhal!, they deploy them again. The difference is that Narwhal! is a no-holds-barred funny play, untroubled by realism or high themes, making it an open range for gags, slapstick and some pretty priceless physical comedy so seamlessly executed members of the audience fell out of their chairs laughing during the play's, uh, climax on opening night, Saturday, Nov. 30.
While Blackaller and Kawa deliver fine performances, it's Clark's Capt. Crock who steals the show. With his thick, untamed beard and intense stare, he looked the part of an embittered seaman, but he turned the trope on its head with cryptic anti-science tirades, a sash bedecked in fake medals and a motorized wheelchair.
Moviegoers will likely notice similarities between Narwhal! and Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Both the play and the film feature prodigal children their parents' legacies into uncharted depths, but where Life Aquatic's humor is as dry as toast, Narwhal! doesn't dwell on its characters' neuroses so much as it pokes fun at them. With a sense of humor as broad as the open sea, Narwhal! will leave audiences awash in laughter.