Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea could work on stage as a Samuel Beckett play. The old man Santiago, alone in a boat on the open water, reeling in an impossible fish, despairing and reveling in the simple human condition of kill and eat. Good, dark, woe-is-man stuff, right?
Though Beckett never tackled Old Man, Hector J. Reynoso, a deaf performing artist, does so in his visual adaptation, The Old Man Never Let It Go. In addition to drawing out the text’s themes of isolation, perseverance and futility that Beckett would have feasted on like a shark, Reynoso’s rendering of the classic fish-tale mirrors Hemingway’s precise diction with deft movement and exacting gesture in a performance of technical achievement.
Hemingway knew how to write about fishing. When someone fishes in a Hemingway story, he does not just haphazardly toss out his line hoping for a nibble. No, sir. That character has been busy at work for a couple of pages cutting bait, hooking it to the line, drawing back the pole, slinging it forward with an expert flick, letting the reel feed out, securing the pole to the boat and on and on.
Hemingway has meticulously detailed the fisherman in his stories and Old Man’s Santiago is one of the old school. After not catching a fish for 85 days, Santiago uses painstaking skill from a lifetime of subsistence fishing to hook an 18 foot mackerel and reel that sucker in.
In his performance, Hector Reynoso employs Hemingway’s eye for minutia and step-by-step action, honoring the author’s descriptive fidelity. Scenes that would seem commonplace like preparing coffee or walking in and out of rooms take on a new excitement when accomplished with Reynoso’s impressive mime-work. The near total absence of props highlights the complexity and convincing dexterity of Reynoso’s movements. When he paddles out onto the water, he steers his boat across the stage with his feet like in a Flintstones’ car. He and the boat function as a seamless unit of locomotion, coasting back and forth over the wave tips.
The Old Man Never Let It Go
by Hector J Reynoso
at Lab II – Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
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While the audience can picture Reynoso’s actions clearly, the projected backgrounds of land and sea, night and day provide an appreciated sense of place and time that helps the audience track along with the play’s sequencing. Also rounding out the performance, the music and sound effects, designed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, give a Jaws like tension during the play’s moments of contest.
In Old Man and the Sea, Santiago doubts if anyone will be worthy of eating the fish he has caught because of its noble fight. The same could be said for the portrayal of Santiago, but Hector J. Reynoso earns his right to play the old man with a gritty performance of honed mechanics. In this visual adaptation, The Old Man Never Let It Go, Reynoso gets his fish and keeps it too.