To the Editor:
Arrogant blustering. Obsession with vengeance, no matter the cost. A bloodthirsty cruelty. The relentless demand for others to join him in his delusional, dangerous world.
No, it wasn’t a day in the White House, but an evening with Captain Ahab at Hedgerow Theatre where I experienced a remarkable production of Moby-Dick. Sprinkled with horror, humanity, and even humor, Melville’s words sprang to life through Kittson O’Neill’s brilliant adaptation delivered by a cast not-to-be-missed.
With the show’s outstanding lighting, staging, and choreography, I could almost see the whale blood spurting as one of the actors leaped down from the stage and harpooned an imaginary whale just a few feet away, plunging the harpoon in — over and over, killing the animal below. The audience of whale-lovers winced.
Queequeg (Kevin Aoussou)—the “cannibal” with a sculpted body, striated with tribal marks, “looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor.” Melville’s famous harpooner carried a killing instrument — a golden tomahawk — which also, turned upside down, served as a ceremonial peace pipe.
Ishmael (Owen Corey), Melville’s narrator, gave a sweet performance, especially when forced to share a bunk with the half-naked cannibal—who, through a special ceremony, revealed that they were now “married.” Despite Ishmael’s initial hesitation, we observed a touching outcome: a vow of brotherhood.
Finally, the feared Ahab, wearing a billowing, black leather coat, thumped onstage with the stump that had replaced the leg bitten off by Moby Dick. The deadly-looking captain (Robert Smythe) wore the wooden peg leg with a perverse pride, even when he fell down on his stump.
His presence swept the stage as he recounted the tale of the great white whale, the largest and most ferocious ever seen, a whale with a personal vengeance for Ahab in a world in which only the two of them exist.
Although the crew talked about the captain’s madness, even considering mutiny, when he was offstage, Ahab convinced them to join in his irrational pursuit by promising them gold — just like today’s Congress — nailing on the wall a golden doubloon like a promise of a tax break, making them drool all over it.
In this innovative production, directed by O’Neill, we came to understand the secret of the captain’s relentless mission. Grabbing Mr. Starbuck’s (Adam Altman) shoulders, Ahab asked:
“Do I look old? I feel deadly faint. Stand here, Starbuck. Let me look into a human eye. I can see your wife and child in your eye. Oh God! I can see my own!”
With bitter, tearful regret, Ahab admitted that he’d never spent more than three years on land out of his 40 years at sea. Existentially, Ahab suffered from deep wounds. Is he capable of redemption? (And is the man in the White House?)
With a crashing finale, we were left shaken by the power of the sea and nature and its ability to overcome the most grandiose and destructive actions by human beings.