Moby Dick, Disassembled in [or, the whale]

Photo courtesy of imaginary beasts’ Facebook page.

Presented by imaginary beasts
Written by Juli Crocket
Directed by Matthew Woods
Musical Composition by Kangaroo Rat Music (Anna Bell & Tim Desrosiers)
Movement Coaching by Molly Kimmerling and Amy Meyer

October 14-November 4, 2017
Charlestown Working Theater
Charlestown, Massachusetts
[or, the whale] on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) “No one remembers an Ahab with two legs,” SHE (Raya Malcolm) tells the third member of the Ahab chorus, Danny Mourino, before sweeping him through a door that exudes a blue, haunting light. This disassembled retelling of Moby Dick is similarly haunting, stylish, and similarly full of light, specifically light slapstick, cheerful music, and a cast of tumblers on a colorful, creepy set complete with giant whale ribs. It’s delightful and strange, and I would expect nothing less from imaginary beasts.

Juli Crockett’s [or, the whale] was made for imaginary beasts to get its paws all over. The story, what there is of it, follows ISH (Sam Terry), a semi-Ishmael enchanted with SHE, a full personification of the sea. SHE lives up to her title by being the most feminine presence in the play. Flirtatious with ISH and mysterious, she’s also an active participant in the story as it unfolds: she is chorus, driving force, narrator, interrupter, and, eventually, murderess who sweeps sailors to their watery grave. Malcolm’s enthusiasm for the role is infectious.

Her lover of choice is Ahab, or at least the myth of Ahab embodied by the three actors who play him, Leilani Ricardo, Jamie Semel, and Mourino. They charge around the stage in paper beards and limps that suggest peg legs. This myth of Ahab is so monumental, though, even ISH take part in invoking the salty, confident literary character who embodies the idea of desire that transcends mortality. “All boys grow up except one,” PIP (the enormously funny and heart-breaking Ciera-Sadé Wade) cries, in reference to the developmentally-arrested Peter Pan. Ahab, too, will not change.

This is the second play I’ve seen this season with Or, in the title. The other was about the affairs and inspirations of Aphra Behn. That had a charming plot and individual characters. Here? No characters, really, just costumed ciphers feeling their way through a long, gorgeous poem.

imaginary beasts spins beautiful images out of this text. I hope never to forget the ballet produced when SHE sweeps PIP overboard. But what is new and inventive can eventually become tiring.

The first adaptation of Moby Dick I saw was in 2011. Like with this one, there came a point where I was just waiting for the ultimate ending: ship at the bottom of the sea and water subsuming all on board until there’s no one left but Ishmael.

Before that, we must push through a great deal of navel-gazing. So much navel-gazing. Navel-gazing that could have been trimmed. The play is lost at sea (ha) when its chorus of Ahabs build a hedge maze of questions centered on loss and desire. They want, therefore they are. It gets tiring. You can put Descartes before the horse but you can’t make him drink.

Speaking of very bad jokes, the title happens to be a very clever one. It’s a counterpoint to the play. Moby Dick could be about desire that takes over one’s identity, both depowering the individual and immortalizing the character. No one remembers an Ahab with two legs, just a bearded, despairing captain with the one. He is long-lived, larger than life, but also infamous for driving his crew and himself to their deaths.

Or it could all just be about that damn whale.

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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