Without so much as a teaspoon of water, a square inch of canvas—or even a goldfish—writer Julian Rad and director Hilary Adams have captured onstage the essence of Melville’s Moby Dick (Ohio Theatre).

The Works company performs this magic via eight men on a stage furnished only with four ladders. With expressive movements balletically choreographed by Adams, these performers re-create the grunt labor of 19th-century seamen—hoisting sails, scrubbing decks, heaving oars. They also embody the rough affection and hair-trigger aggression of sailors in close quarters. These few actors convincingly project the Pequod‘s crew of 30. And they sing! Richly and melodiously, they meld voices in Rad’s adaptations of traditional sea chanteys, which regularly comment on, punctuate, and forward the action.

With sea and whale invisible, the story focuses more intently on the struggle between vengeance-crazed Ahab and would-be savior Starbuck. William Metzo presents Ahab, like Lear, as an unhinged old man, riding his madness to destruction. Michael Berry’s decent, distraught First Mate Starbuck makes a worthy opposite. They work with a fine ensemble who utter Melville’s grand cadences with naturalness and flair, creating riveting drama even as they croon their own haunting elegy.

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