Review: ‘Moby Dick’: A Co-Production with the Alliance Theatre and Southcoast Repertory at Arena Stage

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A complex rigging of interlocking cables, ropes and steel clamps is harnessed by a skeletal steel structure. The structure is at once minimal and abstract, intricate and unambiguous, to suggest the belly of the beast. Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Moby Dick, adapted and directed by David Catlin, gloriously inhabits the changing landscapes of Herman Melville’s novel within the unlikely boundaries of the theatrical stage, leading the imagination to travel the globe. Masterful transformations convey the inactivity of the doldroms, an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with light winds, to the boundless action of revealed moments on a three-year whaling expedition to the Indian and South Pacific oceans. Great instants of visual intensity are created with flashes of fabric, the bound sway of shifting weight, the defiance of gravity, the spooling to a distant light, and the physical story-telling of thought, word and action.

The cast of 'Moby Dick' Photo by Greg Mooney.
The cast of ‘Moby Dick’ Photo by Greg Mooney.

Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi’s aerial/acrobatic choreography spins from the height of the mast to the depths of the sea. Micah Figueroa, as Cabaco, tastes the lowest point. Cast overboard, Figueroa instills as a tiny figure lost in an intense and actively churning deep. Alternatively, DiStasi’s choreography is magically frozen-in-time when Ishmael, played by Jamie Abelson, finds an unlikely bedfellow in Queequeg, played by Anthony Fleming III. The two outcasts find completeness together whether in the grip of a dream, or when scrambling up the main mast look out, or engrossed in the hard work following the successful hunt.

The set designed by Courntey O’Neill brilliantly layers elevations.  Transporting through time and location, the Christian congregation is reproached with the tale of Jonah, the white light seduces, and small boats are launched and propelled forward. A great vigor reinforces a chorus of unity. Seaman become captive by the consuming madness of Ahab, a role performed with fierce passion by Christopher Donahue.

The Fates, played by Kelley Abell, Cordellia Dewdney and Kasey Foster represent the widow, mother, sister, souls lost at sea, the force that consumes, and that which is larger and what is meant to be. Their guise speaks as a chorus rendering up harmonic voices and a physical presence to the sound and original music by Rick Sims. Whether being carved, as the under-skirt transforms to flesh shredded away, the undulating sea, or the relentless grip that pushes Mungun, played by Javen Ulambayar, to his untimely end, the three manifest what is not spoken or what is unheard.

Starbuck, (Walter Owen Briggs) is the voice of reason. His logic provides reasonable choice, a fair picture of what is possible. Ahab steers the ship selfish to his own passions, but as Starbuck, Walter Owen Briggs reminds of courage and strength. His evocative performance does not inflate as he indicates the thirty-two souls on board, and the others left waiting on shore.

Christopher Donahue and Walter Owen Briggs. Photo by Greg Mooney.
Christopher Donahue and Walter Owen Briggs. Photo by Greg Mooney.

The weight of a grudge, a loyal companion found in shared otherness, the unfurling of time, the desire for a new life, the steadiness of the working man, a shared weakness, these ideas surface in the retelling of this classic tale.

This adaptation of Moby Dick is filled with insightful acting, powerful physical story-telling, and visual creativity that transports over time and location. The creative domain is made close at hand.

Though you may know the story well, you will experience in this adaptation, a Moby Dick like no other.

Running Time: Two hours and 20-minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Moby Dick plays through December 24, 2016 , at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater – 1101 Sixth Street SW, in Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase tickets online.

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