Spotlight on John Gentile: Re-adapting "Moby-Dick" for Morocco
By Liza Scales
John Gentile, chair of Kennesaw State University’s Theatre and Performance Studies Department, has plenty to concentrate on these days. The of the department are partnering with from Hassan II University in Morocco to present an intercultural experience centered on Gentile’s re-adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” TPS instructor Hylan Scott, who co-directed the 2008 production, will direct the performance in Morocco. In conjunction with the performance, Associate Professor Karen Robinson is organizing a study abroad experience, which includes lectures and ethnographic studies with the Moroccan students led by Assistant Professor Hannah Harvey.
Gentile began his original adaptation of “Moby-Dick” in 2003 with a course in adapting and staging literary texts. Next, he taught a senior seminar class with English professor and Melville scholar Robert Hill, which led to the first-draft reading of the script. Gentile fine-tuned his script through student and spectator feedback, eventually leading to the stage production at KSU in spring 2008. The American College Theater Festival cited this production for Gentile and Scott’s excellence in directing.
One of the challenges of the upcoming production in Morocco is presenting the play to audiences who are not fluent in English; therefore, Gentile wants to stress the physical action of the play. His re-adaptation reduces the original play from its full two acts with intermission to one act focusing on highly visual components to create impact through action.
In addition to emphasizing the action, Gentile’s adaptation will include some French and Arabic translations, which are the two primary languages of Morocco. Based on previously published translations written by other authors, and through the assistance of Gentile and Scott, Robinson is converting some portions of the script into French. She enjoys the challenge. “Integrating various languages into one text is something I have never done before,” Robinson says. Student Omar Saddiqi, who is translating other portions into Arabic, says, “It’s an honor to bring such a great American work to new audiences through a foreign language.”
Gentile is also writing an essay entitled “The Pilgrim Soul: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick as Pilgrimage” for late 2009 or early 2010 publication in the academic, peer-reviewed journal “Text and Performance Quarterly.” He says, “The timing couldn’t be more perfect to document the project this way.” Gentile’s essay explores the search for the whale as the search for redemption of the soul.
Gentile has new creative projects in the works after Morocco. In September 2009, he will direct “Redwing,” a series of poetic character monologues by Katharyn Howd Machan. Gentile calls this work “a compelling and provocative first production for the new Black Box Theater on campus.” As he revisits this work that he originally staged at KSU several years ago, he hopes to contact original cast members to get their thoughts about the “highly collaborative and congenial experience.” He also hopes that Machan will participate in the project.
Gentile joined the at KSU in 1985. Not only does he teach classes in text adaptation, but he also teaches solo performance, storytelling, myth and performance art. On campus and in the community, he is an esteemed director, actor and storyteller with extensive performance experience who is also known for founding the annual Roswell Magnolia Storytelling Festival in 2000.