By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Sep 8, 2011, at 2:07 AM Updated on 9/08/11 at 2:43 AM
For many area residents, the Blue Whale of Catoosa is one of those things seen only in passing – from the windows of cars zipping east and west along Route 66.
“If you’ve lived here for any length of time,” said John Cruncleton, “you’re familiar with the place. And over time, you’ve seen a kind of evolution of the Blue Whale – the way it deteriorated for a while, and then its rebirth into what it looks like today.
“And you can’t help but ask yourself some questions,” he said. “Why was this thing built? And how did the community around the place make use of it?”
The real story of the Blue Whale is that it was built by former Tulsa Zoo director Hugh S. Davis in the 1970s, as a place for his family to enjoy the spring-fed pond on their farm.
Davis later opened it to the public and operated it until the late 1980s, when the whale and the surrounding Nature’s Acres park fell into disrepair.
Residents of Catoosa have worked to restore the whale to its cerulean splendor and restore the picnic area near it.
That little bit of history was one of the sparks of inspiration for Cruncleton to create “The Blue Whale of Catoosa,” an original science-fiction rock opera that premieres Friday at the Nightingale Theater.
Set a thousand or so years in the future, “The Blue Whale of Catoosa” is the story of one of the last surviving humans in the galaxy – a woman known as Nancy, played by Annie Ellicott.
Nancy is under the control of an artificial intelligence known as BABA, located on the moon. BABA sends Nancy to Earth periodically to explore what’s left of the planet.
“There are seven remaining relics on the Earth, and Nancy has been to all of them except one,” Cruncleton said. “And that’s the Blue Whale of Catoosa.”
But Nancy’s trip to see what might be going on in a futuristic Catoosa uncovers some startling things. First of all, there is someone – or something – living in the ruins of what used to be Nature’s Acres.
And Nancy is confronted with what may be a ghost from Earth’s distant past, whose interest in her might lead to discoveries quite beyond the scope of her very scientific mission.
“My stories tend to start with definite images, and the process of writing is finding ways to link these images together,” Cruncleton said. “And this story was a way to deal with a lot of familiar themes and ideas in slightly different ways.”
Among the ideas “The Blue Whale of Catoosa” explores are biblical stories from Adam and Eve to Jonah and the great fish, Nancy Drew mysteries, Elizabethan drama, Robert Heinlein-like science fiction and “Twilight Zone” fantasy.
The show has one of the larger casts for a Nightingale production, with 28 actors.
“There is a lot of plot and character elements that deal with multiple identities, so that sort of prevented doing a lot of double-casting,” Cruncleton said.
“This show has been in the works for some time, in large part because we had to find the time in Annie’s schedule for her to play Nancy,” he said. “We wouldn’t have done the show if she wasn’t available.”
Music is an integral part of the show, as BABA forbids base forms of communication such as talking and prefers poetry and music.
“All the music is original, and many of the characters end up singing with the band,” said Cruncleton, who wrote the music and performs it with band mates John Finnerty and Steve Beard.
There is even a play within the play – a vaudeville-like retelling of the true story of the creation of the Blue Whale of Catoosa.
“It’s important to include that because the selflessness that went into creating the real Blue Whale – it was a kind of present for his wife, and he opened it to the public free of charge – is one of the main ideas in the play,” Cruncleton said.
“When you give someone you love a gift, what you’re doing in a way is trying to fill a hole in that person’s life,” he said, “even if you don’t truly understand – and maybe will never understand – why those empty spaces are there.”
The Blue Whale of Catoosa
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Sept. 16-17 and 23-24
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Tickets: $12. 918-633-8666