"Blow, Wind, and Crack Your Cheeks," er "That She Blows!"

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

Orson Welles’ early audiences may have been confused by the first presentation of the Mercury Radio Theater version of Moby Dick. Rehearsed, since Welles introduced a stage full of Shakespearean actors ready to play King Lear, only to be told they were, instead, rehearsing his version of the Melville Classic.


On Theatricum Botanicum’s sturdy, permanent set, director Ellen Geer brings life to Welles’ version of the Whaling Ship Pequod, Captain Ahab (Gerald Rivers), and the infamous, ominous Moby Dick. Told with generous dollops of narration by Ishmael (Dane Oliver) and rotating members of the purported Lear cast, the key moments of Melville’s sprawling tale play out.


Ahab’s fanatical tracking of Moby Dick is countered by the more reasonable Starbuck (Colin Simon), which creates tension as the crew becomes conflicted by their rivalry.  Issues of race (the novel was set in the 1840s) extend not only to the rather dim-witted cabin boy, Pip (KiDané Kelati), but to the South-Sea islander, Queequeg (Michael McFall), whom Ishmael befriends.  Prophetically, Ahab drives to his end, provoking the unseen whale and drowning the entire crew. Ishmael, alone, survives to relate the tale.

The Botanicum’s stage comes alive with Geer’s configurations of bodies, rigging, and narrative to make visceral the image of the Great White Whale.  Ahab’s last moments before he is dragged into the sea, the breaking up of the ship, and Ishmael’s clinging to the ship’s flotsam spring to life through her meticulous choreography.  Sound by Marshall McDaniel and costumes by Beth Eslick create the ambiance that drives the action forward.  By the end of the final, stirring moments, you will swear you’ve been witness to a huge shipwreck!

Theatricum Botanicum performs Moby Dick…Rehearsed in rotation during its summer season, mixing Shakespearean plays and classics young (Skin of our Teeth) and older (Enemy of the People) through September 29th, 2019 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga 90290. Tickets range from $10.00 for children to $42.00.  For exact schedule and ticket information phone (310) 455-3723 or online, www.theatricum.com.