Regional Theater Preview: MOBY DICK (Lookingglass Theatre at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on January 25, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s 1851 whale of a tale (or tale of a whale), is as unsinkable as its title cetacean. It’s never been more so than in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s sensation staged and adapted by David Catlin. After an extended sell-out run in Chicago, Catlin now brings this thrilling production to South Coast Rep, officially opening this weekend and running through Feb. 19, 2017.

In little less than three hours the enthralling panoply of a sprawling novel–the lore of the sea, elemental clash of species and egos, the sheer horrors of untamed hubris–explodes beneath a concentrated proscenium. The supple set–concentric whalebone ribs that double as masts, a full rigging fit for a whaleship, and a deck that looks like it was carved from burnished petrified wood–becomes, well, whatever.

You’ll find yourself in a New Bedford inn where Ishmael and cannibal prince Queequeg “bundle”; the sailors’ church where Jonah is invoked as warning and avatar; the bustling Nantucket Island harbor; and, of course, the Pequod. On this ship of fools peg-legged Captain Ahab mounts an implacable revenge against the huge albino sperm whale that took his leg and, like the crocodile in Peter Pan, presumably wants the rest.

Having seen this aerial, athletic show in Chicago, I can tell you that Lookingglass Theatre (associated with Actors Gymnasium, a circus and performing arts organization) rises to the occasion when it comes to illustrating this story. Caitlin preserves both the sweep and warmth of Melville’s cautionary novel. He feelingly depicts the 32-strong band of brothers embarked on a transoceanic hunting expedition that turns into almost total defeat by one branch of mammals over another.

It’s monumental picture-book storytelling. The sails never droop in a narrative calm. It’s battened down and ship-shape as the author imagined.

photos by Liz Lauren and Debora Robinson/SCR

Moby Dick
South Coast Repertory
655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
ends on February 19, 2017
for tickets, call 714.708.5555 visit SCR

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