Moby Dick—Rehearsed Sets Sail at the Theatricum

(Top to bottom) Michael McFall (Queequeg), Gerald C. Rivers (Capt. Ahab), Dane Oliver (Ishmael), and Cavin Mohrhardt (sailor) harpooning the whale. Photo by Ian Flanders

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, the Whale

As the lights come up on the play, Moby Dick—Rehearsed, a little-known adaptation by Orson Welles of Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, an acting troupe gathers onstage mingling, complaining, and fooling around while expecting to rehearse King Lear.

Instead of Lear, however, the gruff director, who also plays Mapple, a sailor aboard the Pequod (Franc Ross), informs the troupe that they will instead rehearse a two-act drama: Moby Dick.

More grumbling ensues while the actors reset the stage and speaking parts are handed out while Lear’s golden throne comes down and the Pequod’s mast goes up.

Theatricum Botanicum’s stage transforms into an 1850’s Nantucket inn, a formidable whaling ship, the ocean, and the ancient white whale itself. The two-hour production that leans upon the audience’s imagination has sailors take to the open seas, sailing the Great Atlantic south around the treacherous Cape Horn, driven by storms into the hair-raising whaling voyage under the helm of Captain Ahab, the brooding, one-legged fanatic whose destructive obsession is to kill the dreaded white whale, Moby Dick, brilliantly played by Gerald C. Rivers.

Theatricum Artistic Director Ellen Geer brilliantly directed and brought forth an intricate tapestry of rough-hewn men against the sea. By play’s end we will know them well and care about them as we witness celebratory rum revels, and their sheer bravery and determination to defy those events that would destroy them.

Dane Oliver anchors the cast as Ishmael, who, as a young sailor, wide-eyed with wonder, “sets out to learn about the ocean and the art of whaling,” but learns instead, “how to face the darkest parts of human nature” and live to tell about it.

Oliver also provided the energetic choreography that keeps the entire ensemble moving, fighting, and thrown from port to starboard during violent storms, and aboard the whaling boats, harpoons held high and at the ready, as they confront the whale.

Colin Simon is a standout as Starbuck, who attempts to instill some reason, to no avail, in Captain Ahab, whose only thought since the whale took his leg, “is to have no heart at all.”

The incomparable Michael McFall plays the terrifying harpooner, Queequeg, and KiDané Kelati plays little Pip, a simple child in a man’s body, in a heartrending performance.

We set sail with the crew—Tavis L. Baker as the much bemused, one-eyed Stubb, Tim Halligan as Peleg, Jacob Louis as Elijah, Melora Marshall as Flask, Dante Ryan as Tashtego, and Isaac Wilkins as Daggoo.

Original music was composed by Marshall McDaniel; Beth Eslick created the seafaring costumes; and Zach Moore provided the lighting and effects, among them terrifying lightning and thunder.

Moby Dick—Rehearsed, will be under full sail at the Theatricum until September 29.



Moby Dick—Rehearsed was staged June 16–July 9, 1955, at the Duke of  York’s Theatre in London, in a production directed by Orson Welles. According to Wikipedia, Welles used minimal stage design. The stage was bare, the actors appeared in contemporary street clothes and the props were minimal. For example, brooms were used for oars and a stick was used for a telescope. The actors provided the action and the audience’s imagination provided the ocean, costumes, and the whale.

Legend has it that Welles filmed approximately 75 minutes of the production, with the original cast, at the Hackney Empire and Scala Theatres in London. He hoped to sell the film to Omnibus, the United States television series, which had presented his live performance of King Lear in 1953, but stopped shooting when he was disappointed in the results. The film is lost.

  1. H. Lawrence called Moby Dick “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world,” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written.”n

Moby Dick–Rehearsed continues through Sept. 29. Tickets range from $10 – $42; children 4 and under are free.

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. The outdoor amphitheaters are terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.

For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets: (310) 455-3723; or Visit Theatricum on Facebook: Follow on Twitter: @theatricum and Instagram: @theatricum_botanicum.


Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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