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BWW Review: Creativity Abounds in MOBY DICK at Arena Stage

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Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company's wonderfully inventive work is once again on display at Arena Stage following entertaining and visually stunning productions like The Arabian Nights and Metamorphoses. This time, the ambitious company takes on Herman Melville's classic story with David Catlin's adaptation of Moby Dick. As a story, Moby Dick offers numerous avenues for theatrical stagings - adventure filled-scenes, powerful displays of human emotion, vivid language, etc. - so it's of little surprise that many artists have tried to adapt the story for the stage. Catlin's adaptation and staging is one of the more creative and successful ones I've seen. As presented at Arena, Moby Dick offers many theatrical surprises that are sure to enthrall nearly any theatergoer looking for something a little different this holiday season.

Ishmael's (Jamie Abelson) adventure-filled whaling trip from Nantucket with single-minded Captain Ahab (Christopher Donahue) is not an ordinary one. Ahab is not only interested in acquiring valuable oil as most whalers might be. More than anything, he wants find and seek revenge on the enormous white sperm whale - dubbed Moby Dick - that previously took off his leg. He will quite literally stop at nothing to find the illusive creature. As Ishmael prepares for the trip and meets his fellow sail mate Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III), nothing can prepare him - or any other fellow travelers - for what he will experience at sea under Ahab's leadership. The effort to conquer the unconquerable is fraught with peril that few can imagine, even the biggest adventure seekers.

Catlin and his corps of actors - adept with not only language, but physicality - take every opportunity to bring the audience along on Ishmael's journey, both physically and emotionally. The decision to use a Greek-like chorus (Kelley Abell, Cordelia Dewdney, and Kasey Foster) to comment on the action and physically represent the mammoth sea creatures (aided by Sully Ratke's inventive costumes) is a good one, but the specifics will not be spoiled here. Courtney O'Neill's sets, William C. Kirkman's lighting, and Rick Sims' sound designs/original music are wonderfully instrumental in allowing us to experience the harrowing journey firsthand. While the aerial/acrobatic elements (Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi) are visually quite exciting - and appropriate to display the dangerous physical tests the men put themselves through on their journey - I also fully appreciate that Melville's evocative language and the story itself isn't lost in the spectacle. It is one thing to deliver a technically daring staging, but it's another thing to do it while serving the story. In this case, these technical elements serve the story very well and are matched by commanding acting performances from every ensemble member, resulting in an all-around exceptional production.

Do yourself a favor and see Moby Dick at Arena Stage because not only is the creativity first rate, it's also a highly entertaining way to spend an evening.

Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes including one intermission.

MOBY DICK (presented in association with Alliance Theatre and South Coast Repertory) plays at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater - 1101 6th St, SW in Washington, DC - through December 24, 2016. For tickets, call the box office at 202-488-3300 or purchase them online.

Photo Caption: The cast of MOBY DICK; by Liz Lauren/Lookingglass Theatre Com


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