Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Moby Dick Rehearsed

Charles Matheny
American Century Theatre is showcasing pure imagination in its current production of Moby Dick Rehearsed, Orson Welles' 1955 stage adaptation of the classic novel by Herman Melville. Welles was a magician, literally as a hobby in addition to his wizardry as a writer and director for stage, film, and radio, and he always understood the importance of treating the audience as a partner in creating the illusion —all of which comes through vividly in Jack Marshall's direction.

American Century previously produced Moby Dick Rehearsed in 1997, with the same director and many of the same cast members. The 15 performers work together with the muscular ease of the ship's crew they become.

Welles' conceit is that a company of actors, in street clothes, have gathered on a bare stage to rehearse King Lear with their larger-than-life (Wellesian, in fact) lead actor and director (Charles Matheny) in the title role. The director decides, on the spur of the moment, to improvise a stage version of Moby Dick instead, starting with rough platforms (organized by scenic coordinator Michael deBlois) and fluorescent industrial lighting. As the rhythms of the drama and the sea take over, so do the appropriate sounds (designed by Dan Murphy) and the ingenious lighting effects (designed by Marianne Meadows). How does it work? That's where the imagination comes in.

Welles retells the story of Captain Ahab (Matheny), obsessed with slaughtering the mythic white whale that destroyed his leg, in a fairly straightforward way. Ishmael (William Aitken) provides narration throughout, and showcases some of the other major members of the crew, including the thoughtful first mate, Starbuck (Thomas Hayes Lynch), who fears that Ahab's fixation on the white whale will destroy their ship, the Pequod; his second and third mates, Stubb (David Jourdan) and Flask (Joe Cronin); and the cabin boy Pip (Christian Yingling, who is female), who's been plagued with strange visions since almost drowning.

Part of the pleasure of the drama is seeing the artifice behind some of the special effects. The sea swells that frequently soak the crew of the Pequod mostly come from bottles of water; the sailors climb up an undisguised metal scaffolding in place of the rigging; and one actor tosses his bicycle wheel to another when the "ship" needs a wheel. The stage manager (Tom Fuller) sits at his desk in plain view, providing cues, until he's needed to help the crew with "rowing."

While the entire cast is exemplary, Matheny —large, bearded, and with a richly modulated voice —dominates his every scene, as Ahab must. He also plays Father Mapple, powerfully preaching the story of Jonah and the whale in an early scene.

American Century Theatre
Moby Dick Rehearsed
March 24th —April 30th
By Orson Welles

Actor, Ishmael: William Aitken
Actor, Mastheader, Whaler: James G. Champlain
Actor, Mastheader, Whaler: Jeff Consoletti
Actor, Flask, Carpenter: Joe Cronin
Stage Manager, Voice of The Bachelor: Tom Fuller
Actor, Stubb: David Jourdan
Actor, Daggoo: Derrick Lampkins
Actor, Starbuck: Timothy Hayes Lynch
Director, Father Mapple, Ahab: Charles Matheny
Actor, Mastheader, Voice of The Rachel: Michael Sherman
Actor, Queequeg: John Tweel
Actor, Whaler: Charles Upton
Actor, Tashtego, Elijah: Shane Wallis
Actor, Peleg, Whaler: Glenn White
Actress, Pip, Whaler: Christian Yingling

Directed by Jack Marshall

Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206

Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or

Photo: Jeffrey Bell of Jeff Bell Photography

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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