Coup D'Etat's 'Moby Dick' brings a powerful American tale to the stage



James Napoleon Stone's new adaptation of Moby Dick makes the case for Herman Melville's 1851 novel as an American epic of Shakespearian scope. There's high drama as well as low comedy, with plenty of poetic monologues for a deeply flawed yet sympathetically drawn leader.

Moby Dick

The Fallout Arts Initiative Coop Space

There's also a young apprentice: Call him Ishmael. Or, rather, call her Ishmael in this telling, which retains much of Melville's plot and language but tweaks the identities of several characters. Notably, multiple crew members on the Pequod are now women, including the merchant-sailor-turned-whaler whose eyes we see the voyage through.

Eva Gemlo plays Ishmael with wide-eyed awe and plucky enthusiasm. Clad, by costume designer Lauren Diesch, in a cozy sweater and an accent scarf, Gemlo evokes an eager undergraduate heading off for a semester at sea. She encounters plenty of accents of a different sort when she signs on with Captain Ahab (Adam Scarpello) and his highly international crew, which now even includes a Russian: "Tashtekova" (Jacleen Olson), a reimagined incarnation of the Native American character Tashtego.

Stone takes his time with the story (the show runs two and three-quarter hours), and you'll feel like you're right on board with the sailors in the close confines of Studio 3 at the Fallout Arts Initiative Co-op. Audience seating is squeezed against a back wall, while rigging lines run down from a mezzanine that serves as the ship's lookout. There she blows!

"She" is each of a series of whales — including, yes, the legendary White Whale — portrayed by Kelly Nelson in what must count as the show's most thankless role, particularly given the fact that she has to remain slumped in place, post-harpooning, while various characters hold forth on the meaning of their conquest.

Still, it works, and that's a credit to Theatre Coup d'Etat's focused and physical style. Stone excels at creating a sense of palpable trust and intimacy within his casts, and that pays off handsomely here: the actors' manifest comfort with one another conveys a convincing sense that this motley crew have been sharing their floating quarters for a long while.

There's plenty of maritime adventure, and the company draw genuine thrills from scenes like a daring rescue at sea, with Ishmael going out on a line to save her friend Queequeg (Antonia Perez) from the grasping waves. A live instrumental quartet led by Jamie White Jachimiec (three string players and a bodhrán) provide an occasional soundtrack and accompany the lusty sea shanties, though a more extensive score could have further enhanced the atmosphere of a show that already comes swathed in perpetual fog.

The most significant flaw in a largely absorbing production is the portrayal of Ahab himself. Scarpello makes a far younger, haler captain than Melville envisioned — which works well in the early scenes when Ahab is pulling oars alongside his loyal crew, but presents challenges when it comes time for the mists of madness to descend. In the end, it's warmly drawn supporting characters like the trusty Stubb (Meagan Kedrowski) and the flinty Flask (Craig James Hostetler) who seem to linger most poignantly in Ishmael's memory, and our own.


Moby Dick
7:30 p.m. Friday through Monday
Through November 21