"Moby-Dick": A Collosal Production
By Jarmea Boone
A whale of a tale will be presented at Kennesaw State April 15-20. The Department of Theatre and Performance Studies presents the Herman Melville classic, “Moby-Dick,” adapted for the stage by Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies John Gentile.
The Melville masterpiece was originally published in 1851 and depicts the adventures of Ishmael, a wandering sailor, and his voyage on the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael finds himself in quite an encounter when he learns that Captain Ahab intends to hunt down and exact revenge on the massive and ferocious white sperm whale Moby-Dick. “Moby-Dick” explores themes of knowledge, ignorance, fate and the business of whaling in the 19th century. Pequod and “whiteness” are, amongst others, major motifs and symbols in the story, and remain major symbols in KSU’s adapted stage production.
Student actor Briana Brock stated, “My character, ‘The Whiteness of the Whale,’ talks about the enigma of pairing ‘whiteness’ with any other object or symbol, and having the significance of that object magnified: the white polar bear, the purity of brides, the white light at the end of the tunnel.” This adaptation “is about the journey of life and the desire to achieve another level of consciousness; to face our fear and reach the unknown. The ‘whiteness’ represents everything we fear and desire; the ‘whiteness’ is the unknown universe we exist in.”
“Moby-Dick” has a hardworking production team whose members have all had a large hand in the genesis of the adaptation. In addition to the directors and creators, the technical team and the student actors and storytellers follow up a line of entertaining theatrical advocates. Student actor Andrew Puckett stated, “The cast has evolved into a single functioning body, much like a ship’s crew, and the production team into a powerful guiding force that steers through the literal reality of the text.”
Professor and Chair John Gentile and Instructor Hylan Scott are co-directors of the production. From their duties of choreographing movement and coordinating character interaction to exploring, researching and conceptualizing, Gentile and Scott find the unique and most stage-worthy techniques and effects for the authenticity of the production’s scenes. “The excitement and challenge of this piece comes from the density of the language and the magnitude of the story we are attempting to present. To translate the epic nature of a whale hunt to the stage is very tricky,” said Scott.
Gentile is also the production’s adapter and has done most of the primary research for the play. “Reading Dr. Gentile’s script, which captures Melville’s language without losing the theatricality of a staged adaptation, is incredible,” says Assistant Professor Jane Barnette, resident dramaturg. Briana Brock agreed. “Dr. Gentile adapted the tale to represent the ideas that arise about why the white whale is so important. Not only is the freedom and power of the giant beast appealing, but the fact that the whale is pure white is even more intriguing.”
Associate Professor Jamie Bullins knows plenty about design in his multiple roles of production manager, set designer, and costume designer for “Moby-Dick.” Bullins works closely with Associate Professor Dean Adams, the artistic director of the department. Dean is “more on the artistic end of the production team, meaning that he guides and spearheads the selection process,” said Bullins. Adams also heads student- play readings, and reviews developed and “in-the-works” productions.
The goals of the show for audiences lie along simple enjoyment and an understanding of Melville’s fully realized text, adapted to the stage. “I want it to look good. And for people to leave and go, ‘Wow, that wasn’t half-bad!’” said Bullins. Co-director Hylan Scott’s goals include “maximizing the gifts and techniques of each member of the team, while focusing those efforts into a seamless presentation.”
“Moby-Dick” is a show that fits right into KSU’s “Year of the Atlantic World” global initiative. Barnette further explained the initiative, “Here in TPS, and, most recently, the KSU Tellers Story Fest, stories were featured revolving around the countries and myths of the Atlantic World. To me, ‘Moby-Dick’ connects to the Atlantic World because it takes place on the Atlantic Ocean—it is, in many ways, the story of the Atlantic World, at least for the English language.”
“Moby-Dick” promises to be a great journey in sweeping imagination and stunning epic discovery. “‘Moby-Dick’ is considered to be the embodiment of American Romanticism—we are offering the audience the opportunity to enter into this classic story in a new and interesting way,” stated Scott. Barnette gushed, “Even if you have read the novel and think you know what ‘Moby-Dick’ is all about, this event will still blow you away. This adaptation breathes new life into one of the greatest American novels ever written.” Andrew Puckett gave a more comical reason for audiences to rush to the production: “If the brilliant adaptation of a riveting classic and its fast-paced, fluid, and dreamlike staging are not enough to convince a person to see the production, then I offer two more reasons: for the ladies, there will be toned, shirtless men on stage. For the fellas, there will be ‘blood’ and the occasional mayhem.”
Briana Brock followed up. “Dr. G gives insights to the novel on a deeper understanding. Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’ is essentially about the great American hunt, an epic tale that incorporates biblical mythologies and archetypal characters that proved Melville ahead of his time.”
Splendid, majestic, and dynamic, just in its development, “Moby-Dick” will present audiences with the gift of the purest in heart-stopping, toe-tapping, aesthetically compelling theatre.