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War of the Whale: Orson Welles meets Melville in ‘Moby Dick Rehearsed,’ playing soon at NIU

February 16, 2011
Clay Blackwell and Charlotte Fox, MFA in acting candidates, appear as Captain Ahab and Pip in Orson Welles’ “Moby Dick Rehearsed.”

Clay Blackwell and Charlotte Fox, MFA in acting candidates, appear as Captain Ahab and Pip in Orson Welles’ “Moby Dick Rehearsed.”

Orson Welles’ “Moby Dick Rehearsed” explores what happens when a theater company attempts to stage Herman Melville’s classic novel without any of the necessary scenery or props.

The NIU School of Theatre and Dance will perform “Moby Dick Rehearsed” from Thursday, Feb. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 27, and Thursday, March 3, through Sunday, March 6.

Welles’ play-within-a-play focuses on the actors rather than stage technology. It opens with a local stage company rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

However, their actor manager shows up and informs them that they will instead be performing a new adaptation of Melville’s novel “Moby Dick.” Despite no props, scenery, a whale, or even a ship, the cast reluctantly agrees to push forward with the new show.

The play is a period piece, set in the year 1904, director Stanton Davis explains. “The theater will look like a theater from 100 years ago. And in a theater of that era, certain actors always played certain character types,” says Davis.

“The change of show is an abrupt shift for the actors,” adds MFA in acting candidate Drew Mierzejewski. “They are beginning a rehearsal of King Lear when suddenly they are stopped flat.”

This switch between shows means that the actors of “Moby Dick Rehearsed” will each be performing as many as four different roles.

“There are a lot of interesting similarities between the characters of King Lear and Moby Dick though,” Mierzejewski says.“The actors are able to channel their ‘King Lear’ characters into their performance of ‘Moby Dick.’”

As the actors assemble the play, they are forced to improvise the props out of the items that would have been on hand in the theater. “As the actors stumble around the play, the story sort of becomes the story of Moby Dick,” Davis says.

“The show is a rip-roaring adventure. It is a play with a monster in it, after all,” he says. “Orson Welles’ adaptation captures the essence of the story while making the play more exciting and immediate than the novel.”

The show also will feature a musical aspect. Davis has included a number of songs that were specifically named in Welles’ script, as well as some old sea shanties from the period.

“Moby Dick Rehearsed” will be performed on the stage of the O’Connell Theatre in the Stevens Building on the DeKalb campus. The show times are 7:30 p.m. weeknights and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased from the Stevens Building box office in the lobby of the Stevens Building. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for students. The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from noon to 2 p.m. Friday and one hour before show times. Tickets also can be purchased online.

For more information, call the box office at (815) 753-1600.