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Review: NoExit Performance's Moby Dick

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To start, director Michael Burke made a strong choice in casting Bill Wilkison as the mad Captain Ahab in NoExit Performance's production of Moby Dick. Wilkison’s initial stoicism gave way to a noble dynamism as Ahab descended from a position of authority to madness and death. And Burke chose Julian Rad’s adaptation wisely. I was pleased to have watched such an honest retelling of Moby Dick in under two hours.

Unfortunately, some of the movement in show got too hammy for a salty tragedy; the harpoons looked a bit too artificial and puny, and the infamous whalebone peg-leg could have perhaps stood for a bit more flourish than just having Wilkison walk with a stiff limp. Furthermore, actors had a few issues in getting out Rad’s/Melville’s lines. I feel assured that this will be cleared up by next weekend’s performances.

The primary drawback to this production is its heavy use of pre-recorded voice-overs for Ishmael’s narration. Much energy and verisimilitude was lost by hearing Rory Willats speaking distantly over the sound system instead of delivering his story directly to those of us sitting right there in front of him. This isn’t Krapp’s Last Tape; listening to the recordings rather felt like going to a performance of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony to find a man in white tie and tails sitting behind a Casio. Moreover, Willats’ recorded performance was just a bit awkward and his accent slightly distracting.

Nevertheless, from Ahab’s sublime first encounter with his fated enemy to the simple, lovely dirge at the end, the whole of the show was greater than its parts. A great deal of the success can be credited to Ryan Mullins, who designed the simple, gritty, wooden set and was responsible for some striking special effects, notably a strangely beautiful image of the Pequod descending into the deep.

Two more notes: On the night I attended, the light board had failed, forcing Mullins to manually operate every light. No one would have noticed this was the case, so three cheers for Mullins’ bravery and level-headedness. Finally, I cannot stress enough how badass Wilkison looks as Captain Ahab.


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