Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Orson Welles :: Moby-Dick

Call me Ishmael

""That same image selves see in all rivers, in oceans, in lakes and in wells, the images of the ungraspable, the phantom of life... and that is the key to it all."

The Afterdeck - A Fair Morning

"His splintered helmet of a brow... old Ahab drops a tear into the sea... how does the vast Pacific hold such wealth as that one drop?"

Cut No Good

"Bad omen... Omen... Omen... If the gods would speak to men they'll speak outright... not shake their heads and give an old wife's darkling hint. Hands off! Ye two are of mankind! Old Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cut no good!

From the New York Times: That Great White Whale Through a Wellesian Lens By Jason Zinoman - March 10, 2007

It takes a fool or perhaps a genius to adapt one of the greatest American novels for the stage -- and Orson Welles was a bit of both. He chased ''Moby-Dick'' through much of the 1950s. After writing and starring in ''Moby Dick -- Rehearsed'' in 1955, he made his own film version of that Melville classic for British television before starring in John Huston's. But Welles still wasn't finished, returning to the novel at the end of his life, filming scenes of himself reading it in one of his many unfinished works. (There are remarkable excerpts on YouTube.)

Welles may never have caught the big fish in the same way that he captured, say, William Randolph Hearst in ''Citizen Kane,'' but this gripping revival of ''Moby Dick -- Rehearsed,'' presented by Twenty Feet Productions with a Shakespearean sweep, proves that this was a perfect marriage of man and material.

It's easy to forget that Welles was first a man of the theater, and this ferocious drama, a poetic examination of one man's obsession, is, among other things, a celebration of the stage. It begins almost offhandedly with a group of actors filing into the theater where they are to perform ''King Lear.''

In a light, almost documentary style, Welles satirizes backstage small talk: the complaints about critics, pay and academics. When one performer talks about the need for theater, another corrects him: ''Nobody ever needed the theater -- except us. Have you ever heard of an unemployed audience?''

When the vain star (Seth Duerr) enters, he informs the ensemble that they will be performing ''Moby-Dick'' instead of ''Lear,'' and that he will play Ahab. This framing device provides a justification for the bare-bones adaptation (everyone wears casual clothes and mimes the props), but the director, Marc Silberschatz, is smart to avoid hammering home the theatrical themes, since the play-within-a-play conceit has become a cliché.

Instead, he concentrates on suspending our disbelief, relying on a direct, simple staging that tells the story with gusto and clarity. The cramped theater, a black box with bad sightlines, actually helps give a sense of being trapped on a rickety ship.

Welles, who ruthlessly edited Melville's novel down to two hours, would no doubt have approved of Dana Sterling's moody lighting design. But this play rises and falls on the strength of Ahab, and Mr. Duerr is happily up to the challenge. With sunken eyes that betray a touch of madness, he looks like a man losing a battle but refusing to give up.

He doesn't perform off his fellow actors so much as recite his lines to the heavens, which makes perfect sense, since he's playing a dictatorial actor playing a dictatorial captain. At his best, Mr. Duerr's booming baritone even brings to mind Welles himself. Call me impressed.

Thanks to http://ismaels.wordpress.com

No comments: