Also see John's review of Angel in the City
Writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. His ten novels, ten collections of short stories, and five works of non-fiction include "The Old Man and the Sea," "The Sun Also Rises" and "For Whom The Bell Tolls." His writing was influenced by members of the 1920s expatriate community called "the Lost Generation," and his works, for which he received a 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, are considered among the classics of American literature. The novella "The Old Man and the Sea" was written in 1951 while Hemingway was living in Cuba; it received the Pulitzer Prize in May of 1952 and was his last major work of fiction published during his lifetime.
Set off the coast of Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea recounts an epic battle of wills between an old, experienced fisherman named Santiago and a giant marlin said to be the largest catch of his life. Santiago's young friend and apprentice, Manolin, has previously been coaxed into not going out fishing with Santiago as he has gone so many days without a catch. Now with much to prove, Santiago ventures far out into waters in which he has never traveled as he does battle with the giant marlin. The battle lasts days rather than hours as Santiago faces the greatest battle of his life. Hemingway's work is known for stoic male protagonists that exhibit the ideal of grace under pressure, and Santiago is the quintessential Hemingway protagonist. Ting and Seibels have expanded the relationship between the Man and the Boy in a way that furthers the story line, and enhances the humanity of the play. The warmth of the relationship between the two characters takes the edge off the stark solitude of much of the piece.
The set for this production is in shades of blues and grays and creams. With the aid of projection and lighting, the colors change as would the sea and sky during the passage of day. The boat center-stage is the site of most of the action. David Pendleton has the unenviable task of playing the Old Man (Santiago). There are no big scene changes or flashy numbers to make him look good. He deftly fights his battle with the fish with just a rope and his acting wits as his props. As he shows various states of exertion, fatigue and elation while battling his unseen fish, he remains entirely focused and centered, with nearly flawless control in not overacting or miming any of these bits. Santiago's conversations with himself and the fish seem completely normal. The entrances of the Boy (Manolin) relieve the tension as he talks to Santiago, and provide an outside voice as he speaks to the audience.
The music played on guitar is at times merely percussive in sound, supporting the tension of the moment. Other moments, particularly those sung in Spanish, are more soothing and reflective, and seem to convey a fondness for memories of the sea and for Cuba. While the addition of music is welcome, the physical presence of Cienfuegos as he plays and sings comes across almost as lurking rather than watching. He would be just as serviceable seated or leaning in a corner. Hemingway buffs may recall that the author used Biblical parallels for this play, and a lurking dark figure may therefore be interpreted as personification of evil, though this does not appear to be the directorial intent. Director Clive Cholerton has guided a gifted Pendleton to a fine performance. His Santiago is filled with the simplistic nobility with which Hemingway wrote the original character. This is a touching, thought-provoking performance of an American classic.
The Old Man And The Sea will be appearing through March 28, 2010 at the Caldwell Theatre. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. The Caldwell Theatre Company is located in the Count De Hoernle Theatre at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, FL. Performance times are Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. For information and/or tickets you may contact them by phone at 561-241-7432 or online at www.caldwelltheatre.com.
*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.