11/17/2020     MOBY DICK         Bay Street Theatre
           

OBSESSION

To paraphrase Melville:

 

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a dry, barren October in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my ennuis get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to a play as soon as I can.

 

I began my review of the Alliance (and Lookingglass) Theatre's 2016 production of Moby Dick because, well reasons (I was in my distant youth a Literature major and still retain my obsessive fondness for quoting great works out of context).  This year, the combined weltschmerz of pandemic isolation, election fatigue, political polarization, and darkened theatres make the reference even more appropriate and telling.  These days, even “get to a play” is a non-starter, so “find a Zoom-y YouTube-y piece of theatre must make do.

But when it is well done, it DOES “make do.”   For now.

 

And make no mistake, the Bay Street Theatre’s broadcast of Moby Dick is indeed very well done.

 

You may ask, “Why should we care about the output of a theatre on the Eastern extremes of Long Island?”  Leaving aside the obvious point that we should care about good theatre wherever and whenever it becomes available (especially now), the Bay Street Theatre has an actual Atlanta connection in the person of Allen O’Reilly, late of the long-missed Georgia Shakespeare Festival (with roles in Much Ado About Nothing, The Cherry Orchard, and many others including the title role in Julius Caesar).  Mr. O’Reilly is now the Director of Education for Bay Street Theatre, and adapted Melville’s novel into a brisk and effective script that captures the essence, the adventure, and the obsession at the heart of Melville’s classic tale, keeping the running time under 75 minutes.

 

You know the story.  "Call me Ishmael" embarks on a seaworthy quest for purpose.  The Pequod's captain, Ahab, is the embodiment of "purpose," a man on a quest to exact vengeance on the semi-mythical beast who took his leg.  The quest {Spoiler Alert} ends in disaster, and Ishmael alone is escaped to tell the tale.

 

So, how exactly does one put a sea-going vessel, a great white whale, and an over-sized obsession into a production that can be performed by actors safely distancing in a format that would fail under the required sea-friendly conditions?

 

First, you have a talented designer and videographer (Mike Billings) who creates some astounding effects and culls period sketches and images to use as background.  Next, you find a composer (Michel Holland) who can give you an evocative score that uses sound (and fury) and melody in equal measure.  Finally, you cast a group of actors, led by Harris Yulin (Ozark, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and many MANY others), all of whom create characters (in many cases, more than one character), who tell the story with skill, treating the camera like a scene partner, and drilling into our passive minds like a harpoon.

 

Of course this version by necessity pales in comparison to the extraordinarily theatrical (and acrobatic) Alliance adaptation from 2016, as it does to the countless film and television versions available to us.  But, in the context of “Theatre-By-Zoom,” it is extraordinary, advancing the genre in ways that are totally unexpected.  Mr. O’Reilly originally conceived this as an on-stage piece, in concert with Bay Street’s “Literature Live!” outreach to local schools, and I daresay it would be a different (not necessarily better) play on stage.

 

Moby Dick is often considered the first "Great American Novel," for good reason.  Filled with minute detail and compelling narrative, it has captured the imaginations of every generation since its 1851 publication.  Countless adaptations and parodies* have been seen, and even Star Trek had its favorite villain (KHAN!!!!!) wallow in Ahabian allusion**.  It's also a long and difficult volume to wade through, though the rewards of actually doing so are great indeed!

 

This adaption is not only a wonderful introduction to the few of you who have been left behind, but a wonderful reminder of how breath-taking a familiar story mounted with imagination and creative energy can be!

 

And, as a cautionary tale, because "Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form," 'twould best behoove us to take a soothing plunge into the vast and overwhelming maelstrom of story-telling raised to the (virtual) heavens.

 

Moby Dick will be available for On-Demand viewing through May of 2021.  Tickets can be found at http://www.baystreet.org/shows-and-events/

 

  --  Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com     @bk_rudy   #BayStreetTheatre    #MobyDick)

 

 

*  Does anyone else know Steve Goodman's wonderful blues-infused "Moby Book?"  Try it -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89Ks11m-26w

 

**  "...to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."   Ahab or Khan?

 

 

Full Cast and Credits:

 

Harris Yulin             Captain Ahab

 Dan Domingues     Starbuck

 Wonza Johnson     Ishmael 

 Nehal Joshi            Peleg/Flask/Fedallah/Captain Gardiner

 Trent Saunders      Queequeg/Captain Boomer

 Allen O’Reilly          Peter Coffin/Stubb/Perth

 

Adaptation-by Bay Street Theater Director of Education & Community Outreach, Allen O’Reilly

 

Directed by Bay Street Theater’s Associate Artistic Director Will Pomerantz

 

Video effects and editing by Mike Billings, Bay Street Theater Production Manager

 

Original score by Michael Holland,

 

Costume design by Meghan O’Beirne

 

John Sullivan  -  Company Manager and Associate Producer

 

Scott Schwartz  -  Artistic Director

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