nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 10, 2009
The Whale is Carlo Adinolfi's one-man performance of Moby Dick. Adapted with director Renee Philippi, and featuring an evocative score by David Pinkard, The Whale is a physical theatre piece that touches on themes and episodes from Melville's novel rather than attempting to encapsulate its whole. Adinolfi is impressive, especially in the dance/movement segments, and the effect of the show is to remind us of the epic majesty of Ahab's battle with the great white whale and, perhaps, whet our appetite to read (or re-read, as the case may be) the original tale.
Adinolfi and Philippi use a variety of theatrical styles to present their material. Adinolfi portrays several of the characters from the novel—notably Ishmael, Captain Ahab, and the less-well-known Sub-Sub-Librarian—who narrate passages from their own highly individual perspectives. With slight modifications to his costume, the actor transforms himself from one man to another with remarkable specificity.
Props that sometimes function as puppets also figure importantly in the production, including a large model of Ahab's ship Pequod that Adinolfi sets on its voyage by literally raising its sails and casting it adrift on the stage. A set of tiny detailed whaling boats, controlled from a single bunraku-style rod, are employed to exciting effect, while a much larger wooden device becomes a boat large enough for Adinolfi to fit in, as well as the skeleton for one of The Whale's renderings of its title character.
And, indeed, it is those moments when Moby Dick himself is realized on the stage that The Whale really captivates. Most thrillingly, Adinolfi himself portrays Moby Dick, arranging his powerful body into an appropriate compacted shape and then, with graceful dance movements, swimming and thrusting to show us the grandeur and indomitability of Ahab's formidable nemesis.
My companion remarked on the production's faithful exploration of some of Melville's religious symbolism and themes (for example, the story of Jonah is recounted two different times in two different ways). This is just one of the aspects of The Whale that sets it apart from other stage adaptations of Moby Dick. Adinolfi and Philippi have certainly provided a singular perspective to this classic tale.