On March 25th, N.C. State University Center Stage brought The Acting Company of New York City back to Stewart Theatre, after much too long an absence, for a single provocative performance of Moby Dick Rehearsed, Orson Welles’ brilliant 1955 stage adaptation of Herman Melville’s epic 1851 novel about vengeance-obsessed Capt. Ahab and his wily nemesis, the great white whale. Talk about your fatal attractions, 19th century style.
As was typical of the legendary actor, director, and screenwriter, Welles retells the story of the captain and crew of the whaling ship Pequod, out of Nantucket, MA, in a highly original way. The curtain rises on a 19th century theatrical troupe in the midst of a rehearsal of a none-too-promising production of celebrated English dramatist William Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece King Lear; but quickly the Young Actor (Timothy Sekk), who will play Ishmael in the play-within-the-play, importunes the Governor (Seth Duerr), who manages the company, to allow him to conduct a staged reading of a new American play based on Moby Dick — and off we go awhaling….
With Seth Duerr briefly as Father Mapple and then as autocratic Capt. Ahab and Timothy Sekk as the novice whaleboat man Ishmael, Moby Dick Rehearsed has the dynamic duo it needs to embark on the Pequod’s perilous final voyage. The fiery Duerr and the cerebral Sekk smoothly slip beneath the skins of their colorful characters and bring them fully to life in all their ragged glory. Crisp characterizations by Michael Stewart Allen as Serious Actor/Starbuck, Christopher Oden as an Old Pro/Capt. Peleg/Voice of “The Bachelor," Kelley Curran as a Young Actress/Pip, Peter Macklin as an Actor/Queequeg, David Foubert as a Middle-Aged Actor/Elijah/Flask, Jay Leibowitz as an Actor/The Masthead, Robb Martinez as an Actor with a Newspaper/Stubb, Victoire Charles as a Cynical Actor/Daggoo/Carpenter, and Luis Moreno as the Stage Manager/Tashtego/Voice of “The Rachel” also resurrect in telling detail the rest of the motley crew that owns and operates the ill-fated ship.
Director Casey Biggs superbly orchestrates the action until the final encounter in which an enraged Moby Dick smashes the Pequod to kindling, leaving a dazed Ishmael adrift in the wreckage as the only survivor. In using a giant sheet to represent both the boiling sea and the scarred back of the great white whale, Biggs creates some confusion about what is waves and what is an angry leviathan splintering whaleboats with his giant fluke.
With a versatile backdrop and a few choice sets, scenic designer Neil Patel creates a fine space for this epic story to unfold; lighting designer Michael Chybowski and music and sound designer Fitz Patton help raise the dramatic tension to a boiling point; and costume designer Jared Aswegan outfits old salts and landlubbers alike in an impressive array of authentic-looking mid-19th century attire.
Until its problematic final sequence, The Acting Company’s current touring version of Moby Dick Rehearsed was a veritable juggernaut of a production. In all truth, it may be impossible to recreate the climactic confrontation between Capt. Ahab and Moby Dick on any stage — but The Acting Company came close, mighty close; and Tuesday night’s highly appreciative N.C. State University Center Stage audience rewarded the New York troupe’s exemplary effort with a hearty standing ovation.
N.C. State University Center Stage: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/. The Acting Company: http://www.theactingcompany.org/ [inactive 2/10]. Moby Dick Rehearsed: http://www.theactingcompany.org/season/mobydick.html [inactive 2/10].