Thar She Blows

Thar She Blows

A low-tech ode to the sea gushes with quasi-ideas

The latest offering from the avant-garde theatrical troupe, Radiohole, is called “Fluke (The Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep) or Dick Dick Dick.”

If you’re put off by the cryptic, self-indulgent title—or live above 14th Street—chances are you should steer clear of the show, now at P.S. 122. But if it sounds intriguing, then you’re in for one strange aquatic trip.

If nothing else, the iconoclastic work lives up to its title. The word “fluke” is defined as “something surprising that happens by accident.” It also means “the lobe of a whale’s tail.” Radiohole, known for its edgy, bizarre performances, has managed to concoct a piece that melds both definitions, and much more.

As with Radiohole’s other work, it’s impossible to get a firm handle on this hallucinatory extravaganza—surely part of their subversive plan.

Things are not as they first appear. The “Dick” of the title, far from being sexual, refers to Melville’s “Moby Dick,” arguably the greatest seafaring adventure of all time. The 19th century classic about the quest for the elusive white whale has been utterly deconstructed, yet its radical, adventurous spirit and reverence for the mysterious unknown deep remains intact.

In this topsy-turvy, willy-nilly universe, narrative takes a back seat to spectacle, and logic is jettisoned altogether. It’s comic theater of the absurd. Is there is a method to this madness?

“Fluke” works overtime to shock us from complacency by turning technology—and preconceived notions in general—inside out. The piece opens with the three performers (Erin Douglass, Eric Dyer, Maggie Hoffman) in an exercise class taking orders from deranged instructor (Scott Halversen Gillette) who appears on an old television set. Later, they become explorers of the sea.

The stage is festooned with a web of day-glo colored cables and wires connected to microphones, a buzzing radio stuck between stations, tiny video monitors, speakers, and other gizmos. All of the devices are outmoded, seemingly rescued from a trash heap, save for the gleaming Apple Powerbook off to one side of the stage.

The cast does double duty as the light/sound technicians, and the act of manipulating the controls becomes part of the show. Dyer, as a latter-day Captain Ahab, employs an elongated fishing rod to squelch the strains of an Electric Light Orchestra tune emanating from a turntable suspended from the ceiling.

Oh, and did I mention the actors perform much of their seafaring shenanigans with their eyes closed? Early on, we see them paint bulging eyeballs onto their eyelids, making them resemble fish.

Amazingly, Radiohole creates an eerie seascape by re-jiggering defunct technology, incorporating old songs about the sea and modulating tones evoking the ocean, such as the gurgle of fish blowing bubbles. Old mattress springs are covered with wooden planks that, when walked upon, suggest the motion of waves.

Other aquatic elements are sprinkled around the set—fishnets, a “Finding Nemo” poster, a canister of rock sea salt, a volume of “The Perfect Storm,” and a school of demonic, singing toy robot fish.

And just when we’ve figured out the oceanic motif, we discover an outer space theme as well, suggesting a parallel between the two vast frontiers.

The fractured dialogue is an odd mix of random quips, poetry, and gibberish. “My tragedy was I became a fish,” says one performer. “Could you have sex with seals?” asks another. One moment they philosophize about living a seaman’s life, the next they cite the war in Afghanistan.

Although I admire the jerry-rigged techo-seascape and the experimental spirit of this production, there’s entirely too much of too little going on here. The hodgepodge of aquatic antics is more perplexing than illuminating. A narrative structure would have helped to contain all of those swirling ideas.

In keeping with the “by accident” aspect of fluke, the show feels slap-dash and improvised. Several technical glitches plagued the performance—when one of the contraptions failed, the breathless, exasperated Eric Dyer cursed, “Hell with it!” and slogged on with the show.