Moby Dick at Lookingglass (Chicago)

Moby-Dick-queegqueegMy son and I went to go see the Lookingglass production of Moby Dick.  It’s an adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic whale of a novel.  The show runs through August 28 at their downtown Chicago location.

The show is beautifully done and realized.  This is the second Lookingglass show we’ve seen, and they do an amazing job of integrating circus skills into theatre.   This may be the finest wrought circus tragedy I’ve ever seen (and I mean this in a good way.)  (Although, I realize this is the second circus tragedy I’ve seen in less than a year in Chicago. Perhaps circus tragedy is a unique to Chicago genre?)

The show follows a narrator (who famously asks us to call him Ishmael) who feels called to the adventure that is whaling.He travels to Nantucket, whaling capital of the world, where he ends up falling in with a southeast asian harpooner named QueegQueeg, and then with the famed Captain Ahab.  Ahab is obsessed with revenging himself on a large white whale who (in a previous encounter) cost Ahab his leg. Ahab’s obsession to find and get the whale at all costs ends (predictably) with disaster, and Ishmael manages to be the lone survivor of 33 crewmen of their encounter with Moby by clinging to a buoyant coffin.

The acting is all superb, and the physicality of the acting is simply wonderful.  Part of it is due to the inspired set design, which is a giant set of whale ribs that extend into the audience. The ribs become parts of the ship (the Pequod) and the shipmen clamber, hang, climb, and otherwise utilize these as part of the action.

chorus_mobyThere was also a chorus of two or three women who sang interstitial hymns, and provided vocal support for the actors.  Their voices were beautiful and haunting, and provided some female roles to what would otherwise be a mostly male play.

When I was in acting school at the Trinity Repertory Conservatory, (now the Trinity/Brown Consortium) the school director encouraged us to think in terms of images- pivotal theatrical moments that encapsulate visually the text/action that is happening.  Later, while studying with Daniel  Stein (who coincidentally (or perhaps not)  is now the lead movement theatre instructor at Brown) , I was encouraged similarly to think in terms of Magical Moments- little moments of theatre that would delight, surprise, and amaze the audience.

Here are a couple of the magical moments from this production:

On a hunt for a whale (a non-white one) the crew “lowers the whale boats”  By lowering them, they actually raise two large swings via  a pulley.  As the swings raise, you suddenly realize that the ocean is now the stage.  One of the actors gets frightened and dives into the ocean (jumps onto the floor)  and then another actor lowers himself in order to save him.  They then perform a two person hand to hand still trapeze act off the swing as they save the crew member.  Just a brilliant moment of bringing the ocean onto the stage without a drop of water.


When Moby is encountered, there is a great amount of tension on the stage.  At one moment, the actors not_down_mapunfurl very quickly and without warning a large white parachute over the audience, and it is clear that Moby is passing over us.  Part of the magic of this is that it takes us by surprise, but also part of it is just the realization of how big Moby is.  I think there was a parachute in Lookingglass Alice as well, so perhaps it’s a feature of Lookingglass.  But it worked!

I highly recommend seeing this show.

Go here to find tickets.

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