Monday, January 29, 2024

Moby Dick for Puppets

Photo by Christophe Raynaud deLage.

In a six-day run at Boston’s Paramount Theater under the auspices of Arts Emerson, the Norwegian company Plexus Polaire staged Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in eighty-five brisk minutes with a cast of seven actor-puppeteers and three musicians. But though some of the effects were nifty and imaginative and the production held one’s attention, I’m not entirely sure what I saw. The show, directed by Yngvild Aspeli, is narrated, like the novel, by Ishmael, the only member of the crew who survives Captain Ahab’s single-minded pursuit of the immense sea beast that chewed off his leg in a previous whaling expedition, and it takes care to introduce us to all the members of the crew of the Pequod. But aside from Ishmael only a couple, the harpooner Queequeg (who becomes Ishmael’s closet friend) and the cabin boy Pip, are allowed to make much of an impression, and when the puppets are in close proximity on the shadowy stage it’s difficult to tell them apart. Aspeli – or the company in collaboration (the program doesn’t offer a writing credit) – hasn’t necessarily chosen the excerpts from the book to clarify the plot, so even if you know it pretty well you might have trouble following the story line.