Have you given much thought, lately, to the ethics of cruise vacations? How about the ethics of eating babies? That’s right, eating babies—malnourished drug-addicted babies, in case that affects your answer. If you’re pretty sure where you stand on both of these questions, you probably don’t need to see Sheila Callaghan’s Port Out, Starboard Home (also known as POSH)—a new play directed by Ben Yalom and now running at La MaMa.
POSH is a satire on an already thoroughly satirized subject, a tale of out-of-touch Americans who are spiritually (and physically) at sea. Aboard a sleek white set of interconnected ship decks, a pantheon of the repressed and gawky assembles for what they’ve been promised will be a life-changing adventure. We meet, among others, a fanny-pack-toting, cheesy-movie-quoting dude with marriage problems (Calder Shilling); an alcohol-guzzling middle-aged dad who can’t admit he’s gay (Josiah Polhemus); and his stammering, painfully shy son who (gasp) might be a virgin (Benjamin Stuber). The cruise’s spiritual guru, Maya (Amy Prosser), flits around cradling an infant and acting aloof.
Punctuating this tale is a series of chipper dance sequences illustrating the outsized consumption that cruises encourage (these include a memorably grotesque feeding frenzy over a trough of chopped cabbage). Meanwhile, a chorus of nattily attired ship attendants narrates the characters’ bathetic inner monologues, and informs us of the fates that await them later in life. The whole affair is sort of The Office meets Anything Goes—well, those things plus cannibalism. POSH’s shipboard saga culminates in a much-anticipated “ritual,” which occurs offstage but, you can be pretty sure, involves the devouring of the aforementioned child (the vacationers discuss their varying gastric responses in a morning-after haze shortly before disembarkation begins).
Why a sacrificial meal of human flesh, you may be wondering, and why on a cruise? Perhaps Callaghan believes that Americans’ relationship to the rest of the world resembles a group of intoxicated, lei-draped tourists munching on the limbs of a helpless tot, then stumbling down the gangplank to resume their nine-to-five routines. And it’s not that this is wrong. It’s just that her irony is aimed at such a tired target that, as the caricatures begin to accumulate, Callaghan’s concoction—like a congealing casserole on a neglected shipboard buffet—becomes increasingly difficult to digest.