Originally penned by novelist Herman Melville, the iconic tale of “Moby Dick” has enchanted readers since its publication in 1851. One hundred years later, the book intrigued famed theater innovator Orson Welles, who adapted Melville’s story for the stage. In 1955, MOBY DICK – REHEARSED was first presented in London with Welles directing. Welles’ cast was a Shakespearian theater troupe who were fresh from King Lear and needed something exciting to pass the time. Welles presided over a nearly empty stage with actors in street clothes who used common items found on the vacant set as props, including brooms for oars and a stick for a telescope. Ever the creative genius, Welles relied on the audience’s imagination to provide an ocean, a sailing ship, and a great white whale.
In many ways, this is also the story of Ishmael (Dane Oliver), a young adventure seeker who wants to try his hand at whaling. Before he locates a whaler in Nantucket, he meets Queequeg (Michael McFall), a skilled harpooner who becomes his pal. Soon the two men find themselves crew member on the Pequod, a vessel commanded by Captain Ahab (Gerald Rivers). Tasked to catch whales – the more the better – the Pequod has run into a problem. During his last voyage, Ahab met up with an albino whale who took Ahab’s leg during their encounter. Now Ahab sees the whale as evil incarnate and vows to track down and destroy his greatest enemy. Thus, he ignores any other sea creatures or even rational considerations and continues on his single-minded quest to kill the whale.
Directed by Ellen Geer (since Orson Welles was not available), MOBY DICK – REHEARSED embarks in a highly creative sojourn in the sea hunting whales. Like the original production, the play relies on the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks, including the hastily put-together set using ropes to mark off the ship and benches to serve as small whale-chasing rowboats. The ensemble cast does an excellent job of gradually morphing into seafarers of the nineteenth century using anything at hand to make the journey real. MOBY DICK – REHEARSED is a rarely produced piece, a gem which highlights the talents of two giants, Herman Melville and Orson Welles. They may have been from different centuries, but they certainly spoke the same language.
MOBY DICK REHEARSED runs through September 29, 2019 with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday August 9 only, on Saturdays at 4 p.m. (7/22, 6/29, 7/20) and 8 p.m. (6/8, 6/15, 6/22, 8/17, 9/7), and on Sundays at 4 p.m. (7/14, 8/4, 8/25, 9/1, 9/22, and 9/29) and at 8 p.m. (7/14, 7/21, 7/28 8/4, 8/25, 9/22) and at 4 p.m. on 9/8 (no performances July 12-14). Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $26 to $42 (students, military veterans, teachers, AEA members $25 and $15 and children 5-15 $10). Friday night (8/9) performance is pay-what-you-will. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.