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Whale Song
or: Learning to Live with Mobyphobia


A play by Claire Kiechel

October 29-November 8, 2014

A warm-blooded comedy about looking for answers.



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Plus 1 Solo Show Festival
Fall 2014


Sunday, November 2 and
Monday, November 3, 2014

An evening of funny and smart original solo shows.





EXCITING NEWS:
TIC to premiere the stage version of Elinor Lipman’s
The Inn at Lake Devine in 2015


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Tongue in Cheek Theater will adapt the popular novel The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman into a full-length play over 2015, culminating with a three-week performance run October 7-24, 2015 in midtown NYC.

About The Inn at Lake Devine, The New York Times writes, "in her delightful novel, The Inn at Lake Devine, Elinor Lipman waltzes fearlessly though a minefield of identity politics. Anti-Semitism, intermarriage, ethnic cuisine and Anne Frank are some of the unlikely, loaded subjects of this witty romantic comedy."

TIC is thrilled to be adapting this work for the stage. Read the entire press release and follow TIC on Facebook and Twitter for updates to this exciting project!

Blogging About: Claire Kiechel, Playwright of WHALE SONG...

The full title of the piece is Whale Song or: Learning to Live with Mobyphobia by Claire Kiechel, and we are pleased to be opening our 9-performance run in a week, running October 29-November 8 at The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios (244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor, NYC).

Tickets are $18 at www.tictheater.com and by calling 212-868-4444.

We asked the playwright a few questions about whales, writing the piece and what she's working on next.


1. How do YOU feel about whales?
Claire Kiechel
Whales are the lacunae of our unconscious. We project so much onto them that they are missing, they are hard to see clearly. We know them mostly from our stories, our myths, our fears, and obsessions. Since the Middle Ages there have been stories of whales swallowing people whole, whales mistaken as islands, whales destroying whole ships. We’ve also been told stories of whales saving sailors from a shipwreck, whales carrying children to safety. Whales have always been a subject of fascination. It is the tusk of the narwhal washed up on the shore that people held up as the horn of the unicorn. There’s something otherworldly about whales with their big heaving bodies, it’s almost impossible to believe they actually can float. Whales resemble chimeras, they do basically function as the unicorns of the sea.

I think we sometimes forget how important whales have been in human history and mythology. When we picture a whale now, we generally picture an orca in Sea World, or we picture a rotting carcass on a California beach. We picture them conquered, suffering because of us. We feel bad. But in Melville’s time, the whale was a source of energy and power (literally they made heating oil with their blubber), but also a dangerous creature embodying all the mysteries of the sea. Sailors in Melville’s time knew you had to respect the whale’s awesome power if you wanted to survive. There is something biblical about the whale; in the bible, it is the whale, the Leviathan, that is the first creature God releases into water, the creature he supposedly creates as a warning to mankind. It is the Leviathan who is the symbol of God’s all-encompassing power, the Leviathan who becomes a symbol of Satan. Medieval hell mouths were often painted as whale mouths, which makes sense if you remember how in the New Testament, Jesus compares his own future resurrection after three days and nights to Jonah’s resurrection after spending three days and nights in the belly of a giant fish. The belly of a whale is death, is hell, is this mysterious space that we struggle to imagine within themselves.

This is all to say that I have very complicated feelings towards whales. I don’t know if I FEEL one thing about. Because of my own experiences, I see the whale through many lenses. Some lenses I almost wish I didn’t have, for instance I saw Free Willy as a kid, so that’s an early association I probably never will get out of me, some part of me will think whale and I’ll always see that image of a kid with a whale flying over him into the sunset. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing I saw that movie since Free Willy was probably responsible for the only positive feelings I had about whales when I was a kid. I had earlier seen Pinocchio and really hated Monstro, really felt on some level that Monstro represented the huge hulking danger I was convinced was always around me, always ready to eat me up, was the embodiment of the danger the adults pretended not to see. So I sort of dreaded and loved stories about whales in the way that children dread and love ghost stories. I was terrified of the ocean and how you couldn’t see what was in it, but there is pleasure in fear, it’s why we go to haunted houses, we like that twinge in our chests that reminds that we are alive. So this a long-winded way to say, that I thought about whales all the time. I would imagine being Job, stuck in the body of the whale. I would imagine being Andromeda strapped naked to a rock waiting to be eaten by the whale slash sea monster Cetus. If you know the story of Perseus chopping the head off of Medusa, Andromeda is the naked woman he picks up right after that as a reward wife, and he uses Medusa’s head to turn the whale to stone. (I apologize to my little cousins for telling them this story and pretending that I had made it up myself). I would sometimes have nightmares of waking up inside of a whale and not being able to tell anyone that I was still alive. I would imagine having to live in that whale forever surviving, like Gepetto, on what little krill I could grab out of his stomach acid (his, always his, Freud may have interested in the fact that my imagined whales were always male). But at the same time, I remember feeling grateful to the whale for letting me stay there – because it was simple, protected, and safe. The whale and I were our own society. Anyway. Complicated feelings. But related to the next question…

2. What inspired you to write this piece?
I had all these feelings and associations with the whale already, and some of these memories came back to me when a wonderful writer in my old writing group, Elizabeth Minkel, brought in a short story about being in London when there was a whale stuck in the Thames. This was a real thing that happened in 2006 when Lissa was living there. Reading the story, I was struck by the way that she described the news coverage of this whale, how it took over all the channels 24/7 for a few days that winter, how the world outside of London ceased to exist. People were obsessed with the whale’s health, with its journey, with its metaphor. People probably dreamed about it at night, tossing and turning.

There’s a weird delight newscasters get when something happens to their town, to their city. Underneath the words they use, there is an instruction to the local viewers: you are real, you have news happening to you, you are, suddenly, important. During a crisis, things take on a sheen of special-ness, of community, we are in the middle of a blackout, of a hurricane, of an attack, we are the focus of the world. When you are in a newsworthy event, you are simultaneously more within yourself than you’ve usually are, feeling things sharply and precisely, and more outside of yourself because you are watching yourself respond to the crisis, you are watching yourself be that type of person who does this type of thing, who takes pictures, who huddles in the corner, who gets drunk. You are outside of yourself writing the story you’ll eventually tell for years. I was here… That day I saw… Suddenly your relationships become clear to you – who is important, who you don’t really love after all. Lissa’s amazing story examined a relationship in the midst of this crisis, examined how this outside news affected the inside journey of a couple. After I read her story, I started thinking about whales again. I re-read Moby Dick which my great high school teacher Delano Greenidge-Copprue had given me to read. I read Philip Hoare’s beautiful book The Whale. I remembered all these feelings I had had about whales in my childhood, remembered the little folk stories that my dad used to make up about the great adventurer Claire-Bear visiting the whale, asking to use its power.

I wrote a ten minute play for Dreamscape Theatre’s 24 Hour Play Festival, which was directed as if the whale was the id, the reporter the ego, and the father the superego of Maya. This interpretation didn’t really work, so I was ready to give up the idea of the play until Brad Raimondo asked me to write a full length version for the 2011 Fringe Festival. Of course he asked me to come up with something the night before the application was due. I think I wrote 50 pages that night, and it was stuffed with all these references, these little factoids about whales that I thought were so interesting and eventually had to mostly be cut because it’s a play not a lecture, but anyway, because I only had one night to write the first draft, the story is a pretty simple one: Maya is grieving her father when a whale shows up in the Hudson River. She, like me (surprise surprise), has a storied history with whales. Indeed her father was recently found dead in the tank of a whale (I stole this real-life detail from an acquaintance who had worked at SeaWorld and had told me about the Tilikum’s history way before the great documentary Blackfish). Everything all of sudden feels incredibly important to Maya, her own history seems to be intersecting with real life events happening on the news. Maya becomes obsessed with the whale, what it means, what it’s doing in her harbor. Her relationship with her boyfriend which had previously been fun and fine becomes not enough. She starts asking bigger questions, starts wanting bigger things in her life, bigger things for herself and from herself. The whale everyone is obsessing about on the news seems to offer some kind of meaning to what feels like the meaningless death of her father. She is simultaneously attracted to and terrified of the whale since confronting the whale means possibly confronting her own life and finding it false. I should say that I don’t know if any of this comes through in the play, I’ve been told it’s sort of a romantic comedy.

3. What are you working on presently?
I’m currently a member of the 2015 Pipeline PlayLab, a group of wildly talented playwrights who seem to know what they’re doing, which is intimidating. During the course of the year, we’ll have meetings and will bring in pages of the full-length play we’re developing and then we will ultimately have public readings in July. I’m working on a play about a 16-year-old girl on a cruise ship who has watched too much Law and Order: SVU and considers herself something of a detective. When the ship’s chef disappears, she takes it upon herself to investigate. I’m using the tropes of the noir detective story to explore things like adolescence, death, and the American concept of “pleasure.” For Pipeline, we are also doing a evening of shorts in January, so I’m also working on that – the Red Room, where it’s going to be, has this awesome 1920s copper bathtub, so I know the play is going to take place in that. Outside of Pipeline, I just finished a draft of my play The Forgetters, which is about a firm that allows wealthy clients to purchase the memories of the non-elite, and an employee who start to question the morality of her own role within the firm. I’m hoping to put together a reading of it soon. And finally, I have a play about Mars in the works. Untitled, because I’m terrible at titles, so it always takes me forever to find the right one.

4. What animal would you be if you could be an animal?
 Some sort of bird. If imaginary beings are allowed in this hypothetical, I’d be a Pegasus since then I would be able to be a horse and also fly.

I'm starting to understand the thing you wrote about space whales in Whale Song...!  Check out the beautiful play, slightly updated since its Fringe NYC production in 2011, running October 29-November 8 in midtown.  For more about Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, visit www.tictheater.com and to learn more about Claire Kiechel, visit her website at clairekiechel.com.
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