Port Out, Starboard Home
nytheatre.com review by Adam R. Burnett
November 11, 2012
In FoolsFury new play Port Out, Starboard Home written in collaboration with Sheila Callaghan, a group of over privileged individuals board a cruise ship that promises a transformative life-changing experience. Callaghan and company created the play partly based on a cruise they took together to Mexico and the group improvisations performed on the decks and dining halls. The play bears to ask: are people ever capable of changing? And how shocking, surreal, large, and extraordinary must an event be to change a person irrevocably?
POSH is steered by an enthusiastic ensemble that enters as the international crew of the Crown of the Seas cruise ship, transitioning into something of a Greek chorus, and finally breaking into one-dimensional characters who are paired together to undergo a foreboding ritual that will change them for the better – if they are really willing to change. Throughout the play the passengers prepare for the ritual of terrifying proportions. They ponder what their lives were before coming on the ship, what brought them here: their fears, their dreams, and what keeps them separate from the rest of the world. In doing this, they confront one another and open up for the possibility of vulnerability. Often the cast or a single character breaks to reveal an observation (for instance, a mention of seltzer water machines and how “the shit we buy in this country is so ponderous”), however, a majority of these moments come off as smug and as a mouthpiece for cynical grievances. Once injected into the play, these ongoing asides behave as a bit of poison distributed throughout, leaving a rather nasty aftertaste.
The play really wants to be warm and engaging and it has its true charms—including the greatest cabbage buffet choreography I have ever seen—but the piece stops mining for depth quickly, the material runs out of steam, and flat lines half way through. We spend so much time getting to the climax—including an unnecessary pre-ritual sequence—that when the ritual occurs, off stage, we already don’t care about the results. The saving grace here is Erika Chong Shuch’s choreography that, despite lethargic pacing, injects the show with a driving force.
When working collaboratively, especially with devised material, often the exclusivity of the group will enable a confidence that the ideas will be felt and shared by the audience: a sort of collective osmosis. This is the great challenge of making a play with many voices in the room. And there are some real standout moments in POSH that work because of this. But in the end, the play is disappointingly a symptom of its creation.