Know Theatre’s 17th Season theme is “adaptation,” and on the evening of Oct. 10, the company opened Julian Rad’s 2003 take on Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby Dick.
In case you missed the compulsory reading of Moby Dick in the past, this Great American Novel follows the obsessive captain Ahab and crew on a voyage in pursuit of an albino predator whale. It’s narrated by young Ishmael, the only survivor of the Pequod’s destruction and Captain Ahab’s dark, doomed quest for revenge. The 800+ page novel is massive with detail. Rad’s adaption uses whaling songs to great advantage to forward the plot and condense time. There is much to like in Andrew Hungerford and Michael Burnham’s co-directed production. Hungerford’s strength as scene and lighting designer and Burnham’s as theatre deviser make for some gorgeous stage moments with a strong ensemble cast.
Sam Ray, Justin McCombs, Montez Jenkins, Jon Kovach, Daniel Winters, Chris Wesselman, Chance Kilgour and Rico Reid were as one, moving under the spell of the sea and Ahab’s obsession. The whaling songs are spirited, mournful and touching. Jon Kovach and Rico Reid’s voices were particularly powerful. The moments of attack are compelling as the audience shares the same point of view as the theatrically imagined whale itself.
The strength of the ensemble moments provides contrast to other moments. The wind falls out of the production’s sails despite many strong performances. McCombs’ Starbuck is principled and moving; Jenkins’ Queequeg is elastic and exotic; Wesselman’s Stubb is humorously questioning.
I struggled the most with Reid’s inconsistent Ahab, who seemed at times to be in an entirely different play. To choose a black actor to play the mad captain insists we make meaning of it. I was unable to do so, perhaps because Reid has yet to find his own meaning in the role. I have the sense that this production will improve as it matures in the weeks ahead, and the actors, Reid included, will fill in the gaps where the sails flatten on this classic tale.
Maniacal obsession plays out every day in various heartbreaking global calamities. Like the good ship Rachel at the tale’s end, we are often in search of our own missing children, finding orphans of another’s tragedy instead.
MOBY DICK, presented by Know Theatre, continues through Nov. 8.