White Horse Theatre Company
at Theatre Building Chicago. Book and
Lyrics by Mat Smart. Music by
Ethan Deppe. Dir. Evan Cabnet.
With Nick Mills, Tawny Newsome, Jonathan Wagner, Casey Campbell, Jeremy Trager.
Saying Mat Smart and Ethan Deppe’s new rock musical is based on Moby Dick doesn’t cut it. Yes, the authors take inspiration from the book about the whale, but they also take more liberties than the PATRIOT Act. Izzy (short for Ishmael) and his buddy Andrew (“A-Train” to his friends) lose their jobs at Naperville’s Great Frame-Up on the same day Ishmael’s ex-girlfriend Q gets reamed out by her personal-training client and Starbucks manager Starbuck loses his shit with a nasty customer. So the four of them pile into A-Train’s Ford Pequod and embark on a fishing expedition in Alaska, but the rapidly derailing A-Train detours to San Diego’s Sea World because Shamu has stolen his girlfriend. And that’s just Act One.
As presented in a brownbagging-it world premiere by White Horse, Keep Ishmael’s biggest problem isn’t the lack of budget (though more production dollars could lend a huge hand to the second act’s ocean milieu). The major obstacle is an inconsistency in tone. The first act seems to set up an exploration of the children of the “perfect” suburb, before act two becomes full-on parody of Melville’s novel. The authors never quite find a middle ground between the absurd and the sincere. Luckily they’ve got an incredibly talented cast of mostly newcomers, chief among them Nick Mills and Tawny Newsome as the romantic leads, Casey Campbell as the classically handsome and comically gifted backup, and Erin Myover in a number of supporting parts. Given another rigging, Keep Ishmael could possibly be a keeper.—Kris Vire