Friday, September 16, 2016

Moby Dick

The Tale Retold by Assemblage Theatre
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 15, 2016

Dennis Rolly (left) as Captain Ahab and Mark Peterson as Starbuck, photo courtesy Assemblage Theatre
It is hard to imagine a more difficult play to produce on stage than Moby Dick. To my way of thinking it would have to be done either on a huge stage with a multi-million-dollar budget or in an intimate playhouse with nothing but a handful of props. The former would perforce be an extravaganza in which all of the insights of Melville’s story would be lost to special effects; the latter would be the sensible way to do it, but would have its own daunting challenges.
Director David Domkoski of Assemblage Theatre had the good sense to know that a small version would make more sense — besides which, he didn’t have the bucks or the space to do it up big —  which is why he produced it in the small black box at Tacoma Youth Theatre with only a scattering of chairs, ladders and buckets on stage to be used as settings ranging from a New Bedford tavern to a whaling ship.
He also did it without regard to gender, with Heather Christopher, Jillian Mae Lee and Kaylie Rainer playing men’s roles.
In an interesting twist such as I have never before seen, the play begins with a prelude in which the entire cast came out one-by-one and recited facts about sperm whales and about Melville’s writing of the classic novel, which sold no more than a few hundred copies in his lifetime.
The cast is superb. Casting Dennis Rolly as Captain Ahab was a stroke of genius. His intensity, his craggy appearance with balding hair long on back and an old Quaker-style beard, and the mad look in his eyes —this is how I shall forever picture Ahab.
Casting Christopher as the cannibal harpoonist Quequeg was another stroke of genius. Nobody could look less like the huge man with the tattooed face than this attractive woman, but with a top hat and strips of colorful ribbon in her hair (and without the tattoos) it is her big, hypnotic eyes and her strong acting that make her into this frightening yet lovable character.
Tim Hoban is outstanding as the narrator, Ishmael. He delivers his lines with restrained passion and makes of Ishmael a sympathetic character.
Other actors of note are Mark Peterson as Starbuck, Rainer as Elijah and Flask (although her lack of clear enunciation in spots made her hard to understand), and Chad Russell as Stubb and Captain Gardner; he was especially good as Gardner), and Tyler Dobies as an unnamed sailor and Captain Boomer.
Two things bothered me about this production, even though I feel that both were somewhat necessary. I felt that there was far too much narration and wished they had followed the adage “show don’t tell,” but in this case, without the narration it would have been nothing more than an action-adventure and much of Melville’s insight into the human psyche would have been lost.
Similary, I was bothered by the amount of bombast. It was loud and in places chaotic. There was some overacting. But that was the way it had to be. These were rough, loud and lusty men in situations where there would, of course, be a lot of shouting. But in a small, enclosed space the noise was almost painful. In the most chaotic scenes I could not hear what anyone was saying as they shouted over each other.
If your taste runs to intense drama, this is the play to see.
Moby Dick, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 24, Tacoma Youth Theater, 924 Broadway, Tacoma, tickets $10-$15, available at the door or Brown Paper Tickets @

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