Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Moby Dick @ Arena Stage!

My faith in the value of live theater was fully restored this afternoon and then some! The production of "Moby Dick" at Arena Stage here in DC was like nothing I've ever seen staged here before. The anticipation begins when you enter and see the stage. Centered is a risen slab like a rugged section of a ship's main deck brought back from the bottom of the sea, one both sides are riggings with pulleys and hooks like, but not quite like those on a sailing ship. But the most striking pieces are the "ribs" that leave the main stage floor and arc up about around all the rest to impossible heights--the ribs of a beast. The initial excitement is fully rewarded by a production that is as acrobatic as it is dramatic. This isn't going to be a simple retelling of the story.

And yet the story remains central to the telling in every way. Adaptor and Director, David Catlin holds fast to the actual text of Herman Mellville's American classic every nautical mile on the way. It is, perhaps, the only flaw in that the second half is thus notably longer than the first, and at some point my internal sensibilities kicked in and I couldn't help but wonder what could have been cut for the sake of pacing. Not that any moment wasn't in and of itself magnificent.

The production was a collaboration with Chicago's Lookingglass Theater Company which a presume meant that Arena forked over a bunch a cash and Lookingglass agreed to bring the show to DC as a result--the way one art museum mounts an exhibition and then it tours to the two or three other museums that underwrite it or provide pivotal works. All the actors were from Chicago. And I assume performed these same roles in this production there. So in a certain sense, it was like going to Chicago to see an amazing new work of American Theater without leaving DC!

The company of actors was as amazing as the sets and the costumes and special effects. There wasn't a single slacker in the group, but certainly the performance of Christopher Donahue as Capt. Ahab was the standout performance in this constellation of bright stars. Also of note was Anthony Fleming III's Queequeg whose energy and physical beauty were surpassed by his impeccable timing and wry humor. And Jamie Abelson's presence as Ishmael was the perfect "everyman" for this drama that is so essentially psychological at heart.

Added to the ensemble were a trio of women who all plays incidental roles in the course of the story, but who also acted as muses, as ideas, as living embodiments of concepts as disparate as the Angry Ocean, seagulls with dispassionate commentary, and the very whales the men sought right down to Moby Dick. They were like the witches in MacBeth--potion makers, fate tellers, purveyors of life and death. To this end, they were attired in the most amazing and time-period-sensitive costumes: Corsets, Hoop skirts and Parasols that became Whale bone, whale flesh and whale spouts. This was one amazing spectacle!
Ishmael (Jamie Abelson) and Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III) getting to know one another.

Before the voyage even begins, from the maw of the beast comes the sermon of Jonah.

The Full male cast Cabaco (Micah Figueroa), Mungun (Javen Ulambayar), Stubb (Raymond Fox), Captain Ahab (Christopher Donahue), Starbuck (Walter Owen Briggs), Ishmael (Jamie Abelson), and Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III).

One of the Fate's stirring up a Typhoon.

Out to kill some whales and Cabaco jumps into the ocean out of fear.

Aha battles his demon...
Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab
I knew I knew the actor who played Ahab from the moment he stepped on the stage.  It nagged at me throughout the performance, but went unresolved until I had time to check his info on IMDB--OF COURSE!  "Law & Order"!!!--it always comes back to "Law & Order".  Season 14, he was the homeless man who murdered over an argument about an orange.  Tight!

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