Queequeg sits down and tries to read, but Ishmael won’t leave him alone. Ishmael: “When you were a kid, what did you eat at Thanksgiving?” Queequeg: “Space turkey. Same as you.” Ishmael: “You guys didn’t have, like, a cannibal version of turducken, like a child inside of a midget inside of an adult?” Queequeg: “I’m not your sassy cannibal tour guide, okay?” Ishamel: “Do you ever miss it? Like, do you ever look at a person and think, ‘Man, I’d sure like to put him in a big boiling cauldron?’” Queequeg: “Yes! In fact, I’m thinking that right now.” And so begins an uncertain friendship from the future based on the past.
The comedy duo Charles may have landed a triple-crossover hit with Moby Alpha, pleasing Melville nerds, sci-fi nerds, and comedy nerds with their smart, silly riff on the similarities between Moby-Dick and science fiction. The central theme is the crazy ways people behave when they’re floating in an anarchic, hostile environment where you have to bring your own water and make up the rules as you go along. Moby Alpha, like Moby-Dick, hits on xenophobia, unlikely friendships, and the thrill of being on a high-stakes road trip (without the road) where a breakdown in your vehicle can mean death. It’s comedy as literary criticism, or vice versa, where the great white whale becomes a great white energy cloud; the sincere first mate Starbuck becomes the android Starbot; and Captain Boomer, another whaling captain in the book who lost a limb to Moby Dick, becomes Officer Kane, the first one to be infected in the movie Alien.
Performers Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman trade off the roles, indicating which character they’re playing by changing the color of the LED lights on their space helmets, which also provide almost all of the illumination for the show. The stage directions say the play should begin in a “blue-out”—just bright enough to see the actors’ hands when they’re not near their helmets—and slowly darken over the course of the performance as the audience’s eyes adjust. It’s a clever move that not only evokes the darkness of space but, by showing us less, makes it easier for us to imagine the hyper-futuristic world around them. After watching the Pequod destroyed by the great white energy cloud from the relative safety of a smaller shuttle, Ishmael says to Queequeg: “This puts every special effect in the history of cinema to shame.”
Charles has a buzzing energy and loopy imagination reminiscent of the Cody Rivers Show, the high-concept comedy duo that won a Stranger Genius Award in 2009. They’ve been performing brainy sketch comedy around the country for a few years—they call their mix of highbrow and lowbrow humor “unibrow”—but Moby Alpha may be their most inspired and fully realized show to date. For Charles, the future is now.