BWW Review: MOBY DICK at Lookingglass Theatre Company
Following a successful 2015 run, that great white whale MOBY DICK has returned to Lookingglass in a highly physical, inventive, and visually compelling production that's fully in keeping with the company's aesthetic. David Catlin's adaptation of Herman Meville's sprawling novel surrounds audiences in the universe of those whalers on board the Pequod in search of that elusive creature. With Courtney O'Neill's artful and hand-crafted set design, the stage and audience reside in a whale "skeleton," which cleverly also becomes the structure of the ship. As is common with Lookingglass productions, MOBY DICK also makes use of some talented, athletic performers who take on stunning acrobatic feats (choreography by The Actors Gymnasium's Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi). But like any voyage, Catlin's script has a number of slower, narration-heavy moments that lack much action. MOBY DICK vacillates between moments of captivating artistry combined with heightened physicality and lengthy stretches of pure narration.
While the story may lag in places, MOBY DICK is consistently well-acted. As Ishmael, Jamie Abelson (who performs at all evening shows) embodies the earnest outsider in every way. Abelson's performance is endearing and slightly perturbed, which mirrors the dark overall tone of the tale. Anthony Fleming III is exceptional and often quite funny as Queequeg, Ishmael's fellow outsider on the Pequod. Fleming is not only a superb actor, but also one of the most accomplished acrobats on board the ship. Kareem Bandealy is consistently wonderful as the pragmatic shipman Starbuck. And as the infamous Captain Ahab, Nathan Hosner paints a disturbing portrait as an off-kilter man consumed by an unceasing thirst for revenge.
MOBY DICK also features three extraordinary female actors in its ensemble: Kelly Abell, Cordelia Dewdney, and Mattie Hawkinson. While each essays various roles, they also come together as the three Fates-an inventive and eerily effective device. Decked out in Sully Ratke's magnificent and haunting costumes, they provide the warning of what's to come upon the play's conclusion. At various points in the production, Abell, Dewdney, and Hawkinson also embody various elements of nature: the ocean, a whale carcass, and even Moby Dick himself. Outside of the skeletal structure of the set, there is no literal whale onstage-but that is perhaps one of the most striking representations of Moby Dick in the production.
In addition to the effective set and costumes, MOBY DICK also makes inventive use of lighting and sound design. Some of Rick Sims's sound design elements are diegetic, including "thunder sheets" on the side of the stage used during storms. William C. Kirkham's lighting design adds to the simultaneously foreboding and fanciful aesthetic.
MOBY DICK has many moments of spectacle and originality between the lovely use of design elements and the fantastic acrobatic stunts. But ultimately those instances are not quite enough to sustain interest in the narrative for a nearly three-hour run time. Catlin would have fared better to yet reign in Melville's sweeping storyline and keep those moments of action and design virtuosity closer together.
Photo by Liz Lauren