BWW Review: Experience Captain Ahab's Madness in Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's [OR, THE WHALE]
[OR THE WHALE] is the center of what Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble calls The Journey Play's the Whole Thing, a "constellation of art objects, events, and experiences." The play is based on Moby Dick. You don't need to have seen the other performances to enjoy this one, but you'll at least want to read the Moby Dick Wikipedia page. (Or you could do what I did and get an audiobook. I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would, so, thanks, PETE, for giving me a reason to finally read it!)
In any case, some of the dialogue in the play is drawn directly from the book, so the the more familiar you are with it, and with Captain Ahab, the better off you'll be.
The play presents us with four Ahabs (played by Jacob Coleman, Rebecca Lingafelter, Cristi Miles, and Maureen Porter). Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that each of these fine actors plays a part of Ahab's fractured psyche. If you don't know already, you'll soon learn that Ahab is mad and leading his crew on an obsessive quest to find the whale who previously took his leg. The story is about what happens when you lose a part of yourself. Who do you become? Will you ever be whole again? Can you even remember who you were before?
The show also features Amber Whitehall as Pip and Paige McKinney as The Deep (which I'm going to leave a mystery).
PETE is an experimental theatre, and this piece is definitely experimental. It's not a linear story, actually it's not a story at all -- more of an experience. You'll descend with Ahab into his madness, which is at times contemplative and at times frantic. It's a wild and intensely emotional ride. When it was over, I felt that same calm you get after exhausting yourself in a temper tantrum, or a good cry. If this all sounds a bit on the strange side, well, it is. PETE charges straight through the boundaries of what you think you can experience at the theatre.
I'm a big fan of the core PETE ensemble, but the actor who really impressed me in this show was Maureen Porter. This is a completely different character from any I've seen her play before, and her performance is outstanding. I'd also like to call out Peter Ksander, who is both director and set designer. He uses the space so well to create a fully immersive experience that engages multiple senses. I keep coming back to that word -- experience -- which seems inadequate, but it's the best I've got. When you leave the theatre, you won't think, "I just saw a play." You'll think, "Something just happened!"
Photo credit: Owen Carey