Charles’ Moby Alpha: A Clever Showcase of Sharp Wits

Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman, or the sketch team known as Charles, bring their MOBY ALPHA to the Ballard Underground. Courtesy of Charles.
Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman, a.k.a. Charles, bring their MOBY ALPHA to the Ballard Underground. Courtesy of Charles.

It seems foolhardy to try to critique sketch comedy — either something is funny to a person or it isn’t, one should simply leave it at that and be done with it. However, this does a great disservice to the amount of work that goes into a typical production, even more so when the show in question happens to exceed one’s expectations.

That said, when it comes to Charles, perhaps those expectations should be higher. The Seattle-based sketch comedy duo — which consists of Charlie Stockman and Chuck Armstrong — has been traveling the national comedy festival circuit for a while now, along with scheduling headlining gigs at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles and writing for publications like The Onion and The Chaparral (Stanford University’s humor publication). They’ve long been playing at the comedy game, in other words, and this experience translates to a pleasant confidence in their performing skills on stage. In turn, the confidence allows them to be a bit expansive with their material.

Moby Alpha, their latest production which closes this weekend at the Ballard Underground, has the fortune of being as funny as it is clever. Vaguely adapted from Melville’s Moby Dick (they change the title entity from a white whale to a white energy cloud, otherwise they keep the major names and character situations intact and not much else), Alpha is a showcase for their ability to spoof the hell out of a setup.

Using the sketch format to skewer everything from the ridiculousness of their characters’ motivations in the story’s new scenario, to some of SciFi Pulp’s worst cliches, Armstrong and Stockman adroitly move from tight setpiece to tight setpiece with grace and wit. Among your correspondent’s favorite moments is an extended (in comparison to the rest of the sketches) riff on 2001‘s HAL and his strained “friendship” with Dave, the nature of which can’t be divulged without spoiling the gag — as with everything else about Alpha, it’s best witnessed live.

Especially because the clever economy in the production design, which you can see in the picture displayed above, needs to be seen to be appreciated; the entire piece takes place in the dark, with the performers wearing helmets retrofitted with programmable technicolored LED lights. The spartan nature of the design is a likely result from having to travel lightly on the festival circuits, does several things at once: it manages to maximize the basic outlines of the performance space, makes each of the numerous characters the duo take on unique, and accentuates the very genre Alpha takes place in.

About the worst thing to be said about this production is that it leaves one wanting to see these performers step even further outside of their discipline. What happens when the rules of sketch get further and further bent to their whims? That is an exciting proposition, here’s hoping Armstrong and Stockman keep at it long enough for us to see it. Until then, you only have two more opportunities to watch Moby Alpha, and tickets have been going fast.

Friday and Saturday; doors open at 8:00p.m., performance starts at 8:30p.m // Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market Street // $12 in advance, $15 at the door; tickets available through Brown Paper Tickets

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