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Framed by an ornate proscenium arch and hidden by a supple plastic scrim, splendid sea creatures swim. (Actually, they are elaborate rod puppets manipulated by masked Kabuki-like figures.) Subtle lighting turns a sperm whale into a mysterious denizen floating freely in these strange plastic depths.
It's an early, awesome moment in Redmoon Theatre's "Moby-Dick," a co-production with Pegasus Players. The full-blooded fantasy pictorially explores Herman Melville's epic of the elementally self-destructive pursuit of a white whale by a crazed captain.
Adapted in 1990 by Redmoon artistic director Blair Thomas and Chicago playwright Jeff Dorchen, and powerfully accompanied by Michael Zerang's relentless score, "Moby-Dick" (the title oddly hyphenated) both expands an already larger-than-life saga and subtly contracts it.
The shape-shifting spectacle opens with a miniaturization, narrated by Ishmael (Tria Smith), the story's sole survivor. A model-ship "Pequod" sails a shimmering vinyl sea.
Vibrant scenes, superbly orchestrated by director Jim Lasko, introduce us to dogged Captain Ahab (Thomas) and his cosmopolitan crew, each donning neo-primitive masks worth their own rituals.
The effects are very special. A looming whale is pursued by a puppet-packed whaleboat; when killed, it unspools to reveal buckets of sperm oil. Like scrimshaw carvings, elaborate transparencies etch out portraits on giant rolling sails. Taut ropes smash Ahab's chair to dust. A storm at sea sends the miniature whaler through a tempest as vivid as any animation.
As the action quickens and elaborate omens foreshadow doom, the characters enlarge. Erupting from ordinary, percussively choreographed ship chores, the crew's tribal dance mirrors its rage against the whale who hunts them.
By the end of the 90-minute play, Ahab, an avenging wraith, has grown to a monster puppet, almost as large as MobyDick, who is now a swirling skeleton swept around like a Chinese dragon.
Though occasionally succumbing to self-conscious metaphor-making (like Ahab doffing his mask to mourn the cabin boy Pip), at its best Redmoon's electric adaptation restores the rawboned wildness of an American classic.
"Moby-Dick" runs through March 19 at Truman College's O'Rourke Center, 1145 W. Wilson Ave. Phone 312-271-2638.
PHOTO (color): Elaborate puppets in a wide range of sizes are featured in Redmoon Theatre's ``Moby-Dick,'' aco-production with Pegasus Players. (Chicagoland North.)
© Chicago Tribune
It promises to be a "Moby Dick" as we've never known the Melville classic. Opening Wednesday, "Moby-Dick" (as it's curiously spelled) is a massive multimedia co-production by Redmoon Theatre and Pegasus Players that uses "sea-blown actors" and colossal puppets to redefine the mythological dimensions of an American masterpiece.
Melville's 1851 tour-de-force depicts a mad Captain Ahab in doomed pursuit of his nemesis, a white whale.
Ahab's monomania has been compared to America's accelerating pace of expansion and unstoppable drive to become the top industrial power. It's a force that inevitably triggers a dangerous opposition. The whale, it seems, is more than a cetacean.
Working from an adaptation co-written with Jeff Dorchen, Blair Thomas conceived and designed the extravaganza, with original music by Michael Zerang. The puppetry ranges from ancient Japanese bunraku manipulation to shadow puppetry and masked performances.
"Moby-Dick" runs through March 19 at the O'Rourke Theatre, Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave.; 312-271-2638.
Other theater openings worth noting:
"Laurel and Hardy Sleep Together," Friday, Terrapin Theatre at Organic Greenhouse, 3319 N. Clark St.; 312-327-5588:Two exhausted best friends must spend the night in one bed in a tiny trailer home.
The comedy, by Colorado playwright Terry Dodd, takes a lighthearted look at male intimacy in our precariously sensitive society. Pam Dickler directs Scott Letscher and Frank Stillwagner.
"The Voice of the Prairie," Friday, Illinois Theatre Center, 400A Lakewood Blvd., Park Forest; 708-481-3693:Moving from 1893 to 1923, John Olive's period piece provides a whimsical look at radio's pioneering days and a sentimental salute to the timeless art of storytelling.
Dozens of characters are played by just three actors-Gary Houston, Connie McGrail and Benjamin D. Dooley. Steve S. Billig directs the time trip.
"Women and Water," Friday, Defiant Theatre at American Blues Theatre, 1909 W. Byron St.; 312-357-3461: In another look at seminal changes in American history, John Guare's sweeping epic, first produced in Chicago by Big Game Theatre, traces the adventures of four young idealists fatefully drawn together during the Civil War and propelled by the will of the magnetic and mysterious Lydie Breeze on a quest across the war-ravaged country.
The work is the first installment inGuare's tetralogy (which also includes "Gardenia," "Lydie Breeze," and "Bullfinch's Mythology"). Darren Critz directs a cast of 16.
"The Stage Two Premiere Festival," Friday,Stage Two Theatre, 12 N. Sheridan Rd., Waukegan; 708-662-7088: The production introduces three new works in one presentation: Timothy Mooney's "Big Nothing," a comic political thriller about a double blind date; "Book Keeping," by Iri Mowrey, about a happily married man who keeps a coded journal secret from his wife; and a wild comedy, "Ten Seconds in the Life of Fenwick Green," in which the title character sees his inane life pass before him while listening to Mahler's 9th Symphony.
"Miracle Birth," Friday, Players Workshop of the Second City, 2636 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-477-8022: This full-length comedy revue features music, satire and improv by recent graduates of the Workshop. "The Poet and the Rent," Saturday, Playhouse at Covenant Methodist Church, 2123 Harrison St., Evanston;312-463-8228: Featuring a Canadian Mountie, petty crooks, poker games and a poetry-spouting dog, David Mamet's obscure 1975 comedy depicts the struggle of a hapless poet to pay his $60 rent in 24hours.
"Accelerando," Sunday, Zebra Crossing Theatre, 4223 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-248-6401: Lisa Loomer's work chronicles 12 scenes over 12 hours in the lives of a diverse couple.
Chet Grissom and Marchel Shipman play He and She and Andrea Urice directs.
"The Nerd," Thursday, Fourth Wall Productions, Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett St.; 312-481-8535: This hysterical comedy by the late Larry Shue depicts the lengths to which good friends will go to shock a companion out of a torpor.
PHOTO: Gary Houston (left) and Ben Dooley in ``The Voice of the Prairie,'' which provides a whimsical look at radio's pioneering days.
© Chicago Tribune