On Theater: Tom Amen nails this whale

Since Golden West College director Tom Amen embarked on his Ahab-like quest to trace the route of Herman Melville's obsessed captain in the classic novel "Moby Dick," audiences have been awaiting the promised outcome on the GWC stage.

Well, the good ship Pequod has docked and it's a highly impressive adventure. While Amen vows in the program that he's "sought to strip away some of the excessive blubber of the novel so that 'Moby Dick' may swim freely on the stage of a theater," the Golden West production still stretches over three hours, entrancing though those hours may be.

Whether the length is justified is for audiences to decide, but Amen's intriguing and powerful adaptation should keep them from checking their watches. This is owning to an enormous cast delivering mostly solid performances, particularly those at the core of the show.

It's hardly surprising that the director has cast his strongest actor at GWC, Lawrence Hemingway, in the central role of the driven Captain Ahab, who's pursuing the great white whale that snapped off one of his legs during their last encounter. Hemingway is positively riveting in the role rendered so indelibly by Gregory Peck in the movie version, his absolute authority powerfully exerted in a seething interpretation.

There are several other sterling performances in the Golden West production, principally that of Brock Joseph as Stubb, the whale boat commander whose raucous sense of humor renders his character eminently human (as opposed to the super-stern Ahab). And the captain's sensitive executive officer, Starbuck, who questions his skipper's dangerous mission, is especially well played by James Monroe.

The task of the story's narrator, Ishmael, is placed in the hands of two actors — Bruce Alexander as the elderly sole survivor recounting a painful memory and Mason Meskell as the Ishmael on the voyage, who performs and offers intermittent insides to the audience. Both men are quite convincing.

A particularly impressive cameo is delivered by Jason Wesley Green as Father Mapple, giving an animated and uplifting sermon on the travails of the biblical Jonah before the Pequod sets sail. He returns as a ship's captain vainly seeking Ahab's help in another strong outing.

Newcomer Joon Park, in his stage debut, is quite laudable as the tattooed, illiterate harpoonist Queequeg. Christian Navarro is convincing as a Bible-thumping owner of the ship, while John Bolen as his partner is less effective.

The show's lone female role is beautifully handled by Rayanne Thorn as Ahab's virtually abandoned but still loving wife, seen longing for his return in a dreamlike cameo. Cameron Moore and Eric Davis are strong as Ahab's other two whale boat commanders.

Technically, this "Moby Dick" excels on all counts, topped by Sigrid Hammer Wolf's shipboard scenic design and Robert Mumm's splendid lighting effects. Susan Thomas Babb's superb period costuming and — in particular — the ominous, foreboding sound design by Dave Mickey also lend enormous atmospheric clout.

For Amen, "Moby Dick" marks the culmination of an exhausting crusade to transform Melville's classic novel into a powerful and exciting stage presentation. This he has accomplished with flying colors at Golden West College.


UC Irvine is presenting "After Troy," a drama based on Euripides' play "Hecuba," this week, running tonight through Sunday. Created and directed by Mihai Maniutiu, the play examines the conflict between civilization and the barbarians who are intent on annihilating it.

The production opened Tuesday. Closing performances are 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the university's Claire Trevor Theatre.

For ticket information, contact the UCI Arts Box Office at (949) 824-2787.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Moby Dick"

Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $13 to $15

Information: (714) 895-8150 or http://www.gwctheater.com

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