Thursday, August 21, 2008

Moby Dick Moves

Paula Citron (the Globe and Mail) reviews Moby Dick:

"Morris Panych's new production of Moby Dick is ambitious and audacious - but it needs work.

"In collaboration with creative associates - movement designer Wendy Gorling and choreographer Shaun Amyot - Panych has adapted and directed Herman Melville's mammoth 1851 novel as physical theatre. Simply put, Panych and his team have manifested Melville's masterpiece as movement to music.

"Yes, there are some words. The voiceover of Shaun Smyth, who plays the narrator Ishmael, is heard from time to time reciting text from the novel, but sound designer Wade Staples has sampled the words to the point where they are superimposed over each other to be rendered almost incomprehensible. This is one of the show's first weaknesses. Why have this text at all if it is difficult to understand?

"Panych and Gorling are responsible for the brilliant 1997 non-verbal treatment of Gogol's The Overcoat, one of the most successful theatre productions ever to have come out of Canada.

"Comparisons are inevitable.

"That adaptation is anchored in rich character portrayals and cleverly timed movement to music. Moby Dick lacks that detail to its detriment.

"On the positive side, Moby Dick is filled with images of staggering imagination. On two tall ladders placed on rolling stands, the actors range themselves in a descending order from top to bottom. Holding their jackets or shirts with outstretched arms, they move gently from side to side in strict synchronization, recreating the fluttering of sails. Instantly, the tall ship Pequod is before us riding the wind in full glory.

"Unfortunately, the production's many visual strengths are offset by weaknesses. The greatness of Melville's novel rests on the unbridled obsession of Captain Ahab. The terrifying white whale Moby Dick has chewed off one of Ahab's legs and he is bent on revenge. In the universal picture, Melville sees this quest as a metaphor for the self-destructive violence of humankind that must lead to tragedy.

"David Ferry is generally an impressive actor, but his Ahab does not radiate this magnificent obsession. There has to be more work from the creative team in terms of physicality and presence to build up this role into a dominant position onstage. At least his ivory peg leg, depicted by a white stocking and limp, is clear.

"Similarly, the scenes aboard the Pequod detailing the day-to-day existence of seamen mending nets and swabbing decks are wonderful, but their individual characters are not clear. We get only hints of personality.

"Smyth's Ishmael has his journal, and the fierce South Sea cannibal tribesman and harpooner Queequeg (Marcus Nance) has his colourful tattoos. We see their friendship. From the stance of W. Joseph Matheson, the authority of first mate Starbuck comes through. The mate Flask (Eddie Glenn) has his bottle and his bravado, but the other men, the multicultural village who populate Melville's book, are, for the most part, ciphers.

"The meetings at sea or 'gams' with the captains of Jungfrau and Rachel (Shawn Wright and Eric S. Robertson respectively) are important, but they are not played up enough. From the Jungfrau, Ahab hears news of the white whale, while the grieving Rachel captain tells of the loss of the whaling longboat with his son aboard. Ahab refuses to help the Rachel in the search because his obsession to go after Moby Dick overpowers human sympathy. That the captains are portrayed as mere caricatures is a failing.

"And then there is the misguided use of the Sirens (Kelly Grainger, Alison Jantzie and Lynda Sing). These three women in flimsy costumes are both the lure of the sea and its destructive power. They are also the manifestation of whales. Unfortunately, Grainger and Jantzie are not effective dancers. The repetitive prancing simply becomes irritating. The production needs better dancers who spend less time onstage, with better choreography.

"Finally there is impressionist composer Claude Debussy's music, which is the soundscape for Moby Dick. It certainly speaks of the power of the sea with its swirling, crashing patterns, but it almost becomes much of a muchness over time, despite the artful placement of individual pieces. One wonders if the insertion of another composer's music at climactic moments - say, Benjamin Britten's sea interludes from the opera Peter Grimes - might spice up the sameness of the score.

"One is moved by Panych's images of dead bodies floating in the sea, the fury of the storm scene and the chase after Moby Dick. Dana Osborne's costumes capture the seamen's life beautifully, while Ken MacDonald's representational set is a marvel, as is Alan Brodie's atmospheric lighting.

"This Moby Dick could be a triumph. It is just not there yet."

No comments: