“Why did you choose to go on a cruise?” asks the ship’s captain (Steven Rattazzi), during the Talking Band’s seaboard adventure New Islands Archipelago. “To get away?” he suggests. “To relax? I don’t think so. You chose to have an adventure—with other people.” We spectators choose live performance for similar reasons. Unlike reading a book or playing an MP3, in the theater we make our journeys accompanied.
The Talking Band has served as a tour guide for such journeys for 36 years, providing numerous good-natured, dreamlike, rather hermetic plays with music. The sweet and slightly dozy New Islands Archipelago is no exception. Two crewmembers and five principal passengers set sail on the S.S. Azure. (The audience is treated as additional guests.) When not enjoying shuffleboard or other on-deck activities, they march in and out of one another’s dreams, sequences rendered in video on 3LD’s stage.
The script—by director Paul Zimet, with music by Ellen Maddow—is a strange one, as if Freud had gotten hold of a ’30s shipboard comedy and made numerous alterations. Seafaring staples such as long-lost relations and incipient amours compete with some heavy-weather metaphors about lucidity and transformation. The cast—which combines regulars Maddow and Tina Shepard with newcomers Kristine Haruna Lee and Todd D’Amour—tackles the material gamely. Rattazzi, who executes a very troubling striptease, deserves special praise.
In this production, the Talking Band attempts a more immersive environment than usual, ranging from the interactive games—more shuffleboard, mini-golf—in the lobby, to the maritime murals, projections, and video effects that swathe the theater itself. As with the vast majority of shows at 3LD, I’m not sure what the technology adds to the proceedings. The play might prove just as seaworthy without it.