Moby Dick Rehearsed
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
Actor, Ishmael: William Aitken
Directed by Jack Marshall
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or www.americancentury.org