Theater review: ‘Moby Dick -- Rehearsed’ at the Lyric Theatre

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The Pequod negotiates Mercury Theatre on the Air waters in Orson Welles’ ‘Moby Dick -- Rehearsed’ at the Lyric Theatre. Too bad this determined Whitmore Eclectic production arrives before summer ends -- it’s a natural for student groups otherwise resistant to Herman Melville’s classic novel. Whether the show entirely succeeds on its own dramatic terms is another matter.

First produced in London in 1955, Welles’ take on vengeful Captain Ahab and his titular target operates from a specific conceit. Set in the 1860s, the adaptation posits an American repertory company rehearsing ‘Moby-Dick’ for its autocratic, ailing actor-manager (James Whitmore Jr.), who plays Ahab and other roles, like his colleagues. While improvising spatial and technical elements, the grumbling troupe eventually succumbs to Melville’s florid prose and characterizations.

Director Aliah Whitmore doubles as stage manager, overseeing the action, including nonstop sound effects, from the sidelines. Production designer Jacob Whitmore combines backstage disarray with era stylization, and Grant Dunn provides evocative lighting.

The cast is valiant, starting with Whitmore Jr.'s central termagant, his gravel-voiced attack flirting with one-note yet ultimately imposing. Dustin Seavey’s sensitive Young Actor, Michael G. Welch’s versatile Middle-Aged Actor and Richard Cox’s grave Serious Actor emblematize an ensemble that varies in technique but wholly commits to the detailed seat-of-your-pants stagecraft. And this proves problematic. Welles’ framing device admirably compresses Melville’s text without necessarily illuminating either it or the social context. That, combined with director Whitmore’s inventive tactics, results in something less improvised than organized, at times both portentous and precious, in the manner of a high-end American College Theater Festival contender. Though capably executed and intellectually worthy, finally this ‘Moby Dick’ feels over-rehearsed.


-- David C. Nichols

‘Moby Dick -- Rehearsed,’ Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 28. $20. (818) 826-3609. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.