Growing up in rural Ohio, I wasn’t over-exposed to the classics. And then while attending a Bible college, not a lot of emphasis was placed on literature outside the obvious. So, I must confess that I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’m fairly aware of the story and the characters, but its nothing something I’ve had much interest in. So when Know Theatre announced their season and MOBY DICK was part of it, I assumed that it would be some sort of avant-garde alternative-take on the classic story. Maybe they’d set it in contemporary times? Maybe it’d be weird and artsy? Maybe I’d like it?
Instead, directors Andrew Hungerford and Michael Burnham have presented Julian Rad’s stage adaption of the Herman Melville novel with about as straightforward an approach you could imagine.
That’s not saying this show doesn’t have creative elements. The use of the ship’s “sails” to help with the setting and action is very visually interesting. The use of sheets of steel to create the sounds needed to convey the action is well done. And the performances, especially those Justin McCombs (“Starbuck”), Rico Reid (“Ahab”), and newcomer Sam Ray (“Ishmael”) are solid.
But the production has some problems. Much of the language is difficult, as evidenced by some line-stumbling from the cast. It’s too long, clocking in at two and a half hours with the second act especially dragging. At times, there is so much noise – shouting and crashing and thrashing about – and for too long that rather than adding to the story, it lost my interest.
That said, if you are a fan of the book (like one of my friends in attendance; she said, “I gotta go home and read the book again now”) or if you have more of a penchant for the kind of poetic language found in works like this, you might find yourself more drawn in than I, especially by the fine work of Sam Ray. His “Ishmael” is sincere and engaging. McCombs, known for his comedic chops, does a fine job with the quiet dramatic moments and I assume his time spent across town at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company helps with the wordiness of the script. Rico Reid’s Ahab was not what I was expecting; he is subtle and understated and I enjoyed watching him work. The rest of the ensemble works together well, and not just on their wonderful harmonies during the multiple seafaring songs. Jon Kovach’s vocal work demonstrates just how versatile an artist he is, while he, Chris Wesselman, Daniel Winters, Montez Jenkins, and Chance Kilgour all have moments where their acting chops are featured. The performances are the best part of this show.
Know Theatre’s MOBY DICK has some very interesting tech elements, a great professional cast, and of course, a classic American story. It’s certainly worth a look!
MOBY DICK runs at Know Theatre through November 8th in Over-the-Rhine. Tickets and more information can be found at the Facebook event and at Know’s website. Don’t forget about their Wednesday night WELCOME EXPERIMENT performances allowing those otherwise unable to attend to see the show free of charge.