Adapting a classic novel for stage is a difficult task, especially when an integral character is a sperm white whale. The Loose Ends Theatre Collective does a good job presenting the story in Moby Dick: an Adaptation for Theatre where eight actors work together to tell Herman Melville’s story.
As the narrator, Ishmael, recalls his harrowing journey with Captain Ahab to find Moby Dick, the audience becomes drawn into the complex story. The play’s intrigue comes through, exploring intense themes such as the existence of God, social status, good and evil, life and death and man vs. beast. Watching the actors take on Melville’s great work feels like watching a crew take on a great whale.
The Collective’s script did a good job of conveying the novel’s symbolism and metaphors. Using puppets, masks and a few props, the actors were able to convey the dark and intense feeling of the novel. Language that was authentic to the novel and its era helped draw the audience into the period piece. The play’s use of music heightened the dramatic scenes and could have been used more often.
The play poses the question, “Who really is Moby Dick?” Although the whale is never seen by the audience, its presence looms large over the room at all times. At times it almost seems possible that the great whale is really a figment of Captain Ahab’s imagination. Ahab sees the whale as his greatest enemy who maimed him on a previous voyage. When the crew encounters other boats along the way, they question the existence of “the great white whale”.
Captain Ahab, physically represented as a puppet but played by rotating actors, becomes a dark, almost scary character. Casting Ahab has a puppet separates him from the audience and makes the tragic hero less relateable and sympathetic. The puppet gives him an added sense of mystery.
The play is truly a collaborative act between the actors. Only the character of Ishmael is portrayed by the same actor throughout the play. The rest of the cast portrays the crew of the boat (or sometimes the other boats) and rotates between roles. The changes are confusing at times and can be hard to follow. It was hard to identify the characters until the second half of the play.
The acting was very strong and got even better as the play went on. The cast gave charismatic performances which can be hard when the characters you are playing keep changing.
The drab setting matched the grim reality of life on a 19th century whaling ship. A white sheet was used well to represent a sail and eventually water.
This intriguing production of Moby Dick is worth your time. Watching the actors work together to recreate the timeless tale of the ship hunting the great white whale is a treat.
Moby Dick: an Adaptation for Theatre has 4 more performances at the Warehouse, 645 New York Ave, NW, Washington, DC.