The vision of a director is easily tested when he has to scale the expanse of an ocean and the battle of wills between a bruised sailor and his whale(ing) nemesis. Moby Dick, the American classic, seen through the eyes of director Alex Goldrich is about performance and verbose theatrics and less about style. The director sticks to minimalism as far as art direction and his production are concerned and instead invests in actors, who thrive in the midst of deafeningly silent waves of the sea that surround them.
While the wounded captain of the ship is Ahab (played by Martin Law), this adaptation seems to confine him to the background as a brooding and sporadic entrant to the stage, as he awaits his final battle with the whale, the invisible yet omnipresent Moby Dick. The stage is primarily occupied by Anne-Marie Saheb, playing Ishmael (and just as convincingly first mate Starbuck), whose performance is credible and barring a few missed lines holds her own as she races through the length and breadth of the story. Pip et al., (played by Alex Petrachuk) and Flask et al., (Nils Svensson-Carell) serve as strong supporting cast, while Chris Hicks (as Queenqueg et al) acts as the glue to the story, turning out a strong performance.
One of the most fascinating creative choices made by the director is the gender- blind casting. It was great to see that the gender of a character had no bearing on who played it. It speaks to the caliber of the actors, as they fluidly move between parts.
The Pequod is a rag tag of spaces created with props, while the mast of the ship hangs in the middle symbolic of its continuous onward journey. While Ishmael starts to see through the chronic and evasive captain that Ahab is, they realize that this is no ordinary voyage and the crew will be roused to a call at arms when they face their final brawl with Moby Dick.
This production tackles faith, perseverance, the human spirit and camaraderie on the high seas. Whaling has surely changed since the writing of the book, but the play tries to scratch the surface of what it meant to be at sea, unsure of where that journey would take you. This interesting duality of a singular objective of Captain Ahab and the uncertainties of the voyage are brought together skillfully by this adaptation.
It’s always a challenge to bring freshness to a classic work that has gone through multiple adaptations and prisms. The minimalist approach of this staging while deprives you of the drama through music and imagery, does allow you to focus on performances and leaves it to the characters to bring all of the dramatic effect. Goldrich does well to bring out the best from his actors and gives us an engrossing and spirited production.
Moby Dick is playing at Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire, 4750 Ave. Henri Julien until February 21.$28/25/22. Tickets HERE.