Thursday, August 21, 2008

Moby Dick Artistic, With Great Actors

Sharon Malvern (the Stratford Beacon-Herald) reviews Moby Dick:

"This famous 'whale of a tale' got a fresh new look in the Studio Theatre's production that opened Sunday.

"Moby Dick, the well known novel written by Herman Melville in 1851, has long been considered a classic of American literature. Its opening line, 'Call me Ishmael,' and its theme of the quest for the great white whale by the one-legged Captain Ahab, are legendary. Moby Dick has been adapted to numerous art forms, from movies to television, opera, dance and even comic books for children.

"But this version of Moby Dick, commissioned and premiered by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for the 2008 season, is original. Moby Dick has been adapted and directed by Canada's celebrated playwright Morris Panych.

"It's not easy to describe this creation. For one thing, there are very few words spoken. The story is told through the movements of the cast, rather than words. The plot, based on the 800-page novel, is revealed through 13 brief episodes. There is no conventional scenery. It takes a leap of the imagination to put all the pieces together. But it's well worth the effort.

"The basic storyline is the arrival of Ishmael in New Bedford, where he meets the native Queequeg, and the two sign on to the whaling ship, the Pequod, as harpooners. When Captain Ahab finally appears, he reveals the purpose of the voyage -- a hunt for the White Whale. The protests of the first mate, Starbuck, are in vain.

"The usual work of sailors on board ship is seen as the crew swab the decks, raise and lower sails and climb the masts, fight and engage in horseplay and peer through spyglasses to spot whales. One unusual event is the appearance of female sirens that bewitch the sailors.

"Whales are sighted and one is caught, dismembered and eaten. A terrific storm comes up, and the crew battle it for their survival. Starbuck wants to abandon Ahab's obsessive quest, but the captain prevails. The sailors meet the Jungfrau, and Ahab interrogates the captain about the White Whale.

"Events move rapidly as Queequeg becomes ill, the Pequod meets the ship Rachel, and the Captain tells of his son, lost at sea. But Ahab is determined to pursue his personal quest for revenge. Finally the White Whale is spotted, a chase follows and Moby Dick fights back. The story ends as Rachel rescues Ishmael.

"This adventure story isn't so much told, as experienced, through the gorgeous orchestral music of French impressionist composer, Claude Debussy.

"The audience experience of Moby Dick is mainly communicated through the expertly choreographed movements of the cast. The effect is that of a ballet, though many of the movements on the wildly rolling ship are very acrobatic.

"Mime, body language and facial expressions are also significant modes of the storytelling here.

"The conflict of man versus the awesome powers of nature is predominant throughout.

"David Ferry is an excellent Captain Ahab, as he portrays the obsessive personality of this strange man, poring over maps and gazing out to sea. Shaun Smith, as Ishmael, captures the initial youthful idealism of the man, his friendship with Queequeg and his fight for survival in the closing scene. However, his inexplicable stuttering mars his speeches.

"Marcus Nance effectively plays the extraordinary-looking Queequeg, with his little idol Yojo. Shawn Wright as Father Marple epitomizes religious zeal as he sermonizes on Jonah. W. Joseph Matheson is convincing as Starbuck, the first mate who is at odds with Captain Ahab.

"The most unusual characters are the three sirens -- Kelly Grainger, Alison Jantzie and Lynda Sing -- who execute graceful balletic moves around the sailors. Clad in flesh-coloured body stockings and wispy, fluttering garments, they are sexy and unforgettable seducers.

"Costume designer Dana Osborne dressed the men in neutrals as early Victorian seafarers.

"Designed by Ken MacDonald, the set is simple, yet representative of the ship, with a compass painted on the floor, doors that resemble the wooden ribs of a ship and huge cream coloured sails. The furniture is used creatively: ladders as masts, planks to represent the sides of small boats and benches as beds.

"Sound effects of wind, waves and seabirds add to the overall effect of life at sea.

"Even without the realism of a film, the storm still appears a wild and frightening experience, thanks to the movements of the cast as they are tossed about the deck and on the sea.

"It's difficult to determine who contributed what to this production, as there is a list of 32 artists who participated in the development of the piece. But it's probably fair to say that Wendy Gorling, creative associate movement, and Shaun Amyot, creative associate choreography, deserve congratulations for their work. Alan Brodie's lighting was superb.

"Moby Dick is an unusual artistic work, brimming with creativity and innovation. "

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