Review | Ishmael: a monolog based on Moby Dick

The Jungle, through Feb 4

Kevin Kniebel, Jim Parker, Nate Sipe and Jack Weston in ISHMAEL. Photo by Dan Norman.

For most people… Well, for many people… Okay, for me, Moby Dick = Gregory Peck. The image is indelible: Peck-as-Ahab lashed to the great albino whale’s side, stabbing at him ineffectually with a broken harpoon, as Dick, having handily turned the Pequod into wet kindling, prepares to make his fatal (for Ahab) and final dive.

Does this image exist in the Jungle (the play runs through Feb 4)’s one-dude show Ishmael?

It does, but the Moby Dick/Ishmael adapter/director, Leo Geter, insists on employing, mainly, Herman Melville‘s deathless prose, so the moment lacks the impact of the film. Moreover, it occurs toward the end of this 90 minute one act, after Melville exhaustion has set in. The moment is there but it doesn’t thrill as it did in the John Huston film. This is an unfair criticism, to be sure. How can one expect an adaptation of a tome like Moby Dick to work like a film? Still, dang me, I had G. Peck on my mind through-out.

You know the story: Ishmael, possessed of a hard-to-understand need to go to sea, signs up on the whaler Pequod. But the weird (to put it mildly) captain is obsessed with finding, and killing Moby Dick, the great white whale. And he does.

The production is quite good. The actor, Jack Weston, has an interesting presence. He neither under nor overplays the material. For the most part, he makes the Melvillean prose live. He prowls the stage, giving us a very watchable performance.

Weston is supported by a pretty-good band – guitar (Jim Parker), fiddle (Nate Sipe), banjo Kevin Kniebel) – you might could call them a bluegrass trio – and though they are sometimes tentative to a fault, they mostly support action nicely. Geter effectively moves them through the action. They occasionally play side characters, shouting out responses, supporting, as I said, Weston’s incisive performance. Nice.

Moby Dick is an acknowledged American masterpiece. Of course you’ve read it. But in case you haven’t, the Jungle is offering a rare opportunity to experience the story, vividly. Don’t eat a heavy dinner. Be prepared to concentrate. This is difficult but rewarding stuff.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. Please visit John’s informational website.

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