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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

In the current political climate, where the political left and right are more divided than ever in their world view, Northlight Theatre’s The City of Conversation provides a glimpse at an elite class of Washington, DC, power players and how they charted the course of this country from behind the scenes for many decades.

 

The play, which opens Northlight’s 42nd season, centers on the relationships of a liberal socialite and her powerful but understated influence. The show’s title is a nod to British author Henry James’ famous view of Washington, DC, and the impact of its parlor games, and women in particular, on politics.

 

Written by Anthony Giardina and directed by Marti Lyons, The City of Conversation takes place in an exclusive Georgetown enclave and spans more than 30 years (from President Carter to the inauguration of President Obama) of socialite Hester Ferris’ (played by Lia D. Mortensen) political maneuverings over cocktails and posh dinners.

 

The play kicks off in 1979 during the twilight, and what Hester calls the malaise, of Carter’s term. She is hosting a very important party for her longtime, married partner Senator Chandler Harris (played by Tim Decker). Through the power of gentle persuasion, filtered through a catered meal and cocktails, Hester hopes to wrangle the vote of Republican Senator George Mallonee (played by Tim Morrison) for an important piece of legislation that will buoy Senator Teddy Kennedy’s chances in a primary bid against Carter.

 

Things take an unexpected turn when Hester’s son, Colin Ferris (played by Greg Matthew Anderson), shows up a day early from London with his fiancé Anna Fitzgerald (played by Mattie Hawkinson) who is not only an outsider from a small Minnesota town but also extremely ambitious, which Hester is quick to notice, and is a supporter of Governor Ronald Reagan.

 

The events of that evening set a course resulting in family division as both Hester and Anna wrestle with the rising tide of Reaganism and the resulting power shifts from liberal elites to the “Barbarians at the Gate,” as Anna calls the new crop of conservative outsiders, like herself, taking power.

 

Things come to a head for the family during the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as Hester, Anna and Colin, now a staunch republican, spar over the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

 

Though Hester’s influence has declined over the years she is still working behind the scenes to stop the momentum of Bork’s nomination. Colin, who works for Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, begs his mother not to embarrass him by intruding in the process. However, Anna, who is now in a powerful position within the Justice Department overseeing Bork's nomination, discovers Hester’s attempts to derail him and sparks fly as the two women, who are similar in their ambition and that they were once both outsiders who fought their way into the centers of power, engage in a heated argument culminating in an ultimatum and an irreconcilable break.

 

This scene is the strongest of the entire play and certainly generates the most excitement as Hester and Anna throw sharp barbs at each other. Perhaps the one drawback is that there is so much dialogue that both actors feel a little rushed in their delivery so the lines don’t always land as powerfully as intended.

 

A theme running throughout The City of Conversation is that Northeastern elites forgot the plight of the common man whose eventual political rise, however, lead to the decline of their Georgetown class along with the toney parties, described by Hester as an arm of the government. And gone with that brand of cocktail diplomacy are the civility and the mutual respect across the partisan divide that made political battles more of a chess match than the blood sport they are today.

 

The City of Conversation is being performed at the Northlight Theatre through October 23. Tickets are available at northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

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