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Winner of four Jeff Awards, including Best Production, and fresh off a national tour, Moby Dick, adapted and directed by David Catlin from the book by Herman Melville, returns to the Lookingglass Theatre. The play is produced in association with The Actors Gymnasium, a circus and performing arts training center.


The story is narrated by adventurous Ishmael, a sailor en route to sign up with a whaling ship, Piqued. Ishmael (superbly played by Jamie Abelson at evening performances) first lands in an overcrowded hotel, where the innkeeper casually informs him that due to lack of room he’ll have to share a bed with another fellow. His muscular, tattoo covered bedmate, Queequeg (the absolutely splendid Anthony Fleming III), is a son of a Polynesian island king, who is on his own soul-searching journey. The two men bond and decide to board the ship together.


The rest of the show takes us onto Piqued. The ship is a testosterone infused man-cave; the sailors do what real men are supposed to do: they go out to dangerous sea to hunt down whales in order to obtain whale oil, a valuable commodity at the time. Their jaw-dropping circus-inspired acrobatic fits of agility (choreography by Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi) add to the feel of masculine energy and the everyday struggle to stay alive.


But Piqued’s disheveled and angry Captain Ahab (fiercely played by Nathan Hosner) is not interested in whale oil, he’s got a score to settle: the giant white whale named Moby Dick bit off his leg during their previous encounter. Captain has been at sea for a very long time, and in his insanity he imagines that the white whale represents all the evil in the world, and thus it must be destroyed. It’s pure all-consuming madness!


Costume designer Sully Ratke’s clever use of fabrics play games with our minds: an oversized woman’s skirt swallows drowning men, a vast piece of white silk brushing past our heads is a giant white whale.


The feminine energy in the play is very distinct. The three female actors (Kelley Abell, Mattie Hawkinson, Cordelia Dewdney) play all the female parts as well as the three Fates. They set the mood with their eerie presence and graceful movements, while their beautiful voices provide live score (sound designer/composer Rick Sims). Sometimes they are just lurking around, and other times they are the forces of nature and nature itself. One of them turns into a whale carcass being stripped of meat and drained of oil by sailors in a vaguely sexual way.


That feminine energy is of stark contrast to the mere mortal men’s struggles to survive. It’s Man vs. Nature, and nature can never be conquered. Spoiler alert: in the end, the Ill-fated ship is swallowed by the over-sized skirt. Vengeance is a two-way street.


About the venue: Lookingglass Theatre is housed in Water Tower Water Works, the historic still functioning water station built in 1869, which pumps 250,000 gallons of water to the north side of Chicago every day. Separated from the theatre space by a glass wall, it feels like a time warp, which sets the mood perfectly for this mid-19th century classic. For more information on this show or to purchase tickets, visit www.Lookingglasstheatre.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Lasting imagery, profound acting and exciting characters set the stage for Lookingglass Theatre Company’s latest production, Moby Dick, the classic tale of the monomaniacal plight of Caption Ahab who is hell bent on destroying a fierce sperm whale who cost him his leg, even at the expense of his own crew. As the story goes, a crew is assembled for a whaling expedition only to find out their captain has another agenda – revenge. Though the play successfully conveys a sense of unity we also feel a dark loneliness that feels foreboding from the story’s beginning.

Lookingglass Theatre is brilliantly transformed to effectively capture the essence of the ocean with the use of flowing fabrics and strategic lighting and uses more than a touch of creative genius in order to pull off a believable whale. As the story unfolds, three stoic red-headed women become part of the set sometimes enhancing the dialogue with their ghostly words of warning and at other times representing the stormy waters or the whale itself. The three are as haunting as they are graceful, dreamily heightening the story’s focus at just the right moments.

Still, it would be difficult to present a plausible production of Moby Dick without a fiery Captain Ahab, but, thankfully, Lookingglass has found their man in Christopher Donahue. Donahue, seemingly born for the role, is as blistering as they come and brings the doomed captain to life with the vigor and fervor deserved for such a classic character.  

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Jamie Abelson excels as character/narrator Ishmael. A seasoned sailor who has served on a number of merchant ships, Ishmael finds himself aboard a whaling ship for the first time and plunged in the midst of Ahab’s quest.  Also, outstanding is Anthony Fleming III as Ishmael’s faithful companion, Queequeg, a South Pacific Ocean native whose loyalty is to truly be admired.

Along with the tremendous acting performances and scenic bliss that thrusts us into an imaginative world of high seas adventure, several acrobatics feats also play large in creating such a high level of excitement in this play. Actors are able to utilize the large stage area as they scurry up the walls, balancing high above the crowd, or performs stunts on the enormous whale skeleton that envelops the theatre’s interior.

Splendidly adapted and directed by ensemble member David Caitlin, Moby Dick is a true homage to the classic tale of revenge written by Herman Melville in 1851. A production for the entire family to enjoy, Moby Dick is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through August 28th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.LookingglassTheatre.org.

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