WHALES: A Punk Rock Moby Dick

By Andrew Andrews

Carli Rhoades, Samantha Blain and Mikayla Stanley in WHALES: A Punk Rock Moby Dick at the Peoples Improv Theater in the Flatiron District. Original photo by Ambe J. Photography.

We admit we had our doubts when we learned that WHALES was a shadow play. We’ve seen shadow puppets before around town and, to say the least, they weren’t very impressive (but then, even a traditional shadow play at the Ancient Folk House in Xi’an wasn’t exactly the highlight of a trip to China a few years back). And we’ve been to the PIT many times—often as the only members of the audience—and although there have been some big winners (such as Fake It Till You Make It and Taboo Tales), in hindsight it was usually pretty clear why a show wasn’t well attended.

But WHALES purported to be different on both counts. Subtitled A Punk Rock Moby Dick, and inspired by “house bands, interactive game shows, documentaries, and Herman Melville’s seminal masterpiece,” it sounded like an interesting mash-up. So we agreed to check it out, and…


It all starts with the “tattoo” of a harpoon you receive upon arrival, and a proclamation that WHALES is, in part, a drinking game—an unexpected twist that sent us back out for a glass of something before the show even started. And before you protest that it’s all just a scam to make you spend money at the bar, you’ll be happy to know that said glass will be refilled gratis during the show, and if you’re really cost-conscious, nobody will protest if your cup overfloweth with water—as long as it isn’t salty sea water!

And then, the show proper begins with the promised punk rock band (Samantha Blain, Claron Hayden, Casey Leach and Mikayla Stanley) to get you into the drinking spirit. And yes, there are shadow puppets, interspersed with real-live performers—not only behind the screen, but before it, and into the aisles as well. There are toasts—plenty of toasts! You’ll witness a live game show, and maybe even participate as a volunteer from the audience. You’ll see shadows of graphics that look like they’re from The History Channel, and you’ll learn about spermaceti and its extraction from a skit reminiscent of Tool Time with Tim Taylor (A.K.A. Captain Carli Rhoades) and Al Borland (A.K.A. Captain Kristopher Dean). And there are the Top Four Fucked-Up Things About the Illumination Industry, and other historical context with even more audience participation.

This is a perfect example of theater that breaks clean of traditional boundaries while remaining completely accessible and utterly enjoyable. Hit the Lights! Theater Company successfully mashes ancient theatrical elements with contemporary values, pop culture references and edutainment into a show unlike anything you’ve seen before. So check it out, then come back here and let us know your favorite part of the experience. Whether you loved being on a whaling crew or would have been happier at home drinking a beer and surfing Wikipedia, your reviews help others get an idea of what to expect, and your ratings help us help you find future performances you’re sure to love!


Andrew Andrews attended WHALES: A Punk Rock Moby Dick at The PIT/Peoples Improv Theater in Manhattan on Thursday, April 26, 2018 @ 9:30pm to write this review.