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'Moby Dick' makes a splash

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Herman Melville’s whaling classic, Moby Dick, comes to life at Arena Stage with a talented acrobatic performance by the Lookingglass Theatre Company. Through the ingenious use of staging and aerial aerobics, the audience is transported into the North Atlantic as they watch the insane Captain Ahab (Christopher Donahue) in vengeful pursuit of the white leviathan that bit off his leg. Along for the ill-fated voyage is the narrator known as Ishmael (Jamie Abelson) and his comrade Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III), the runaway son of a south sea chieftain. The two self-titled “isolatos” are united in their thirst for something more in life. Their unlikely friendship breaks up the dismal mood of the play with sparks of comic relief.

The cast gives a Shakespearian quality performance on a minimalist set that included a weather-beaten platform surrounded by tall, curved poles that looked suspiciously like whale bones, a constant reminder of the crew’s fate. Despite the set’s lack of water, the cast did not hesitate to take the action off the ship’s decks. At one point, a sailor plunges overboard and begins his struggle for life. The surreal lighting and suspended choreography that follows creates an eerie yet elegant ballet between sailor and one of the three fates played by Cordelia Dewdney. 

Audiences looking for some Christmas cheer unfortunately will be disappointed with the plot.  The strong themes of God’s justice and mercy, however, make it appropriate for the penitential Advent season. The story is flooded with religious symbolism in the names and roles of the characters. We hear the story of Jonah before the fateful voyage, and in a tense scene, first mate Starbuck (Walter Owen Briggs) reminds Captain Ahab, of God’s words, “Vengeance is mine alone.” 

“Moby Dick” is suitable for spiritually mature teens due to episodes of violence, cursing, death and episodes of nautical seduction by the three fates. Parents should be aware that the blasphemous antics of Captain Ahab make the production inappropriate for young viewers. The play runs through Dec. 24 in the Kreeger Theater.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016