Overacting sinks Theatre in the Dark’s ‘Moby Dick’ audio stream

Director Corey Bradberry’s distillation of the infamously lengthy tale is solid, if only on the page and not in execution.

SHARE Overacting sinks Theatre in the Dark’s ‘Moby Dick’ audio stream
Robinson J. Cyprian (clockwise from top row, left), Corey Bradberry, Mack Gordon and Elizabeth McCy are presenting Theatre in the Dark’s production of “Moby Dick.”

Robinson J. Cyprian (clockwise from top row, left), Corey Bradberry, Mack Gordon and Elizabeth McCy are presenting Theatre in the Dark’s production of “Moby Dick.”

Provided by the company

Theatre in the Dark’s original audio adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” is packed stem-to-stern with some of the best, most evocative writing I’ve heard from a theater this year.

But not even the mighty wordsmithery Melville wields to tell the tale of Captain Ahab and his lethal obsession with the titular great white whale can compensate for a cast that continually overacts and a sound design that’s barely a cut above what you could create with an old press-and-record cassette player.

‘Moby Dick in the Dark’

Untitled

When: Through April 10

Where: Streaming live from Theatre in the Dark

Tickets: Pay what you can; $20-$30 suggested donation

Run time: 100 minutes including one 10-minute intermission

Info: theatreinthedark.com

Directed and adapted by Corey Bradberry for Theatre in the Dark, this livestream audio-only “Moby Dick” (there are no visuals, you’re meant to “listen in the dark”) doesn’t sound like a professional production so much as a rehearsal by a well-meaning but over-ambitious group of underclassmen preparing to try out for the JV speech team.

The flow is repeatedly halted for the announcement of scene changes. The foley work is minimal. The acting ranges from scene-chewing to scene-nibbling. The sea shanties? Arghh matey, they’re cringe-worthy.

It’s all terribly frustrating because Bradberry’s distillation of the infamously lengthy is solid, if only on the page and not in execution.

Melville’s original can be a slog if you’re not into the endless intricacies of the 19th century whaling industry; the book is an exhaustively detailed primer on that front. Bradberry’s lean, mean cutting strips much of seafaring minutiae to expose the heart of the story: a primal battle of man against nature and himself, as meticulously etched as a scrimshaw pocket watch.

At its best, “Moby Dick” reminds us of our place in nature. Whaling ships are toothpicks to Moby Dick, human life utterly inconsequential. The whale might as well be a god the way he toys with the men of Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod. The only force mightier than the whale is the ocean itself, and that, too, Melville conveys with a Biblical force of Old Testament fury.

Bradberry has a cast of three telling the story narrated by Ishmael (Elizabeth McCoy renders him bland and benign), the rookie whaler who signs on with Captain Ahab (a growling Robinson J. Cyprian) for a three-year whaling voyage, only to find the captain is a madman who will sacrifice both life and profit in his pursuit of Moby Dick. Along with Mack Gordon as first mate Starbuck, the trio plays multiple smaller roles as well.

Theatre in the Dark is at its best when the cast simply delivers Melville’s exposition without attempting sound effects or character voices. It’s during the former that Bradberry creates a few powerful scenes. There’s a passage where the crew encounters an empty, battered ship, its crew long since swallowed by the ocean. It’s an eerie illustration of just how foolish it is to imagine you can control the power of the sea. Also good is the moment when Moby Dick first breeches and reveals his full gargantuan size, leaving the crew wonderstruck. And when Ishmael et al realize they are literally sailing through a watery tomb, it’s a shivery reminder that tide and time are eternal, human life a flicker in comparison.

But those moments are few and far between. And while it’s difficult to capture the switch from, say, bustling dockside to roiling ocean without visuals, Bradberry’s decision to break the fourth wall to announce new locales gives the story a start-and-stop rhythm that completely disrupts any sense of dramatic tension.

Nick Montopoli’s original score deserves better. There’s a scene dedicated to sailors who shipped out and never returned, and it’s rendered powerful by Montopoli’s eerie underscoring. But just at its height, Bradberry has the cast start singing again and whatever atmosphere Montopoli brought to the audio is lost.

“Moby Dick” is a whale of a tale. Just not here.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.

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