Review: BCT's 'Narwhal!' makes for a fun night of theater

Boise Contemporary Theater has a big fish on the line with its world premiere production of “Narwhal! Unicorn of the Sea.”

Written by BCT producing artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark and artistic associate Dwayne Blackaller, the play straddles the line between children and adult fare with a cartoon feel and heightened storyline. (It’s good for 13 and older, there is a plenty of whale mating humor and innuendo.)

This is good, silly fun.

The premise starts with Diana Richter (Carie Kawa), a marine biologist from a long line of fabled marine biologists, ready to toss her life’s work into the sea. Fortunately, a plucky sailor named Xander Oxley (Blackaller) happens by to stop her and discover a floating bottle with a note, addressed to Diana. It’s from her grandfather who met his demise under the Arctic ice, telling her he’s found the mating grounds of the elusive narwhal, a small Arctic whale with a single protruding tusk reminiscent of the mythical unicorn. The note offers clues to the mating ground’s location and — it just happens — the sailor is from the Deep Sea Vessel Lugubrious with a maniacal captain named Bernard Crock (Clark) who is willing to transport her there. Overcoming her fear of depths, she boards the submarine and this wacky trio is off on an undersea adventure, trying to beat the overly efficient and “evil” Swedish research team to the site.

The dialogue is funny, with some clever twists and uses of language. Chicago-based Julie Ritchey’s direction is snappy and witty moves the story along briskly. And the production itself is gorgeous.

Technical director Will Ledbetter created the sets from illustration artist Bill Carman’s renderings for the DSV Lugubrious, and Hannah Read Newbill did the same with the costumes. Having been a fan of Carman’s for several years, it’s wonderful to see his imaginative world brought to life. It’s heightened under Raquel Davis’ rich lighting. Peter John Still’s sound design brings the aquatic scene to life and the cherry on top is Andy Lawless’ animation of Carman’s creatures that appear through the Lugubrious’ periscope.

This trio of actors works well together. Crock is nicely drawn and Clark mines some funny bits from his salty New England accent and the motorized wheelchair he uses to zoom around the stage. Kawa is bright and energetic as the somewhat conflicted Diana, but a bit too high strung at times. Blackaller, as always, blends his apt abilities for physical and fast-talking humor as the Oxley.

As you can guess, with its cartoon qualities the story is forthright and it lacks character development from our crew. It's reminiscent of a great skit from the "Carol Burnett Show."

Even the big reveal — which is definitely worth the wait — doesn’t really take our characters to a new place, and the jokes are a bit obvious. Still, it’s an entertaining and delightful night of theater and a focused and clean effort by Clark and Blackaller.

Over the past few years, BCT has focused much of its efforts on developing new plays by local playwrights. This season there are three world premiers.

You can now buy a three-pack of tickets for “Narwhal!” “Fata Morgana” by Jeni Mahoney (Jan. 28-Feb. 21) and “The Fisherman and his Soul” by Michael Baltzell and Michael Hartwell (April 1-25).

“Narwhal! Unicorn of the Sea” runs 8 p.m. Dec. 10-13 and 17-20, and 2 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20 at Boise Contemporary Theater, 854 Fulton St.

Tickets are $32 for Fridays and Saturdays, $26 Wednesdays and Thursdays and $16 for matinees and student tickets for any performance by calling 331-9224, ext. 205 or  purchase here.

The World Premiere Ticket Package is $78 general, $45 for student. Purchase here.