Written in an era long before word processing, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was fairly immense. Though its 206,000 words is fairly common for a modern novel, when the work was written, it doubtlessly felt fairly massive. The whaling epic about a ridiculously large whale conveyed immensity on so many levels from the physical to the abstract and metaphysical. It was a truly ambitious work. This month one of the smallest stages in town tackles a humble adaptation of the work as Off The Wall Theatre presents Call Me Ishmael--Dale Gutzman’s adaptation of the book. The tiny, little stage may not convey the titanic immensity of Melville’s work, but the cast holds the interpersonal drama of the show together quite well, bringing it down to an intimate drama focussing primarily on the passions and concerns of four people.
Director Dale Gutzman and Technical Director David Roper have put together a visceral visual feel for the show. The action of the production swims from one scene tot he next ubder the power of minimal suggestion and clever direction of the eye with little more than sheets and a few props. This proves to have been a good move as any extensive scenic design would have compromised the flow and rhythm of a show which is so closely focussed on the drama of just a few people.
Jake Russell plays the title character here. He’s a young man who wants to see the world. Russell’s wide-eyed wonder in the role serves as an emotional focal point to the show that serves it well against the murky ambition of the rest of the story.
Nathan Danzer is a strong presence onstage in the role of Queequeg--a physically.imposing Polynesian prince of great experience and elegantly simple emotion. The stark simplicity of Dazer’s approach to the character fits well within a briskly-established relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael, which wastes little time in becoming romantic. The romance between the two men resonates on a very personal level that contrasts against the loftier, more intellectual relations between Starbuck and Captain Ahab.
Mohammad N. ElBsat has a somewhat galvanizing energy as ship’s chief mate Mr. Stabuck. He’s acting captain for the early part of the play as the ship’s chief master lurks about in the shadows. ElBsat conjures thoughtful authority in the role that anchors the dramatic energy of the story until Ahab finally makes his appearance.
Towering James Strange plays the obsessive Captain Ahab. Strange’s crisp intensity as the mysterious captain brings a sense of mystery to the production. Standing there on one leg and one ivory stump with an impressive scar across his face, Strange looks a bit like a special effect onstage. The rich authority of his voice launches the production forward into the hunt for the great white whale known as Moby Dick. Strange’s intensity draws the mood of the story over the edge into an ambitious darkness.
Gutzman and company know exactly which direction to point their tiny stage in to chase off after one of the greatest works of English literature. Gutzman’s unique take on the classic is an enjoyable reflection of a great work that doesn’t even come close to approach the towering accomplishment if its source material, but it doesn’t need to. Gutzman’s reflections on passion and ambition fill the tiny space of his theatre quite well. To pursue any more than interpersonal drama would have been folly.
Off The Wall Theatre’s production of Call Me Ishmael runs through April 28th at the tiny, little studio space on 127 E. Wells St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Off The Wall online.