Appearing suddenly in a pool of light, an actor using a cane for a peg leg becomes a menacingly obsessed captain aboard a doomed ship.
The essence of theater is performer and audience. Yet, it is the meeting of those two that make the medium transcendental. What is theater anyway, but a conspiracy of the performer and audience to conjure?
The American cultural luminary Orson Welles is best known for his incarnations of other media, radio (The War of the Worlds) and cinema (Citizen Kane), but he was first and foremost a man of the theater. He once said he only wanted to give the audience a “hint of a scene” and “no more than that.” “Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.”
It is indeed a social act. People, in the flesh, have to gather to make it. You can’t do it over the Internet. It makes for bad films and boring television. But live, in it’s natural embodiment, it’s something all on its own; a particular medium onto itself, the original social medium.
In his adaptation of Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick, Welles decided to employ pure theater. He posits a concept with the given circumstances of a turn-of-the-last-century theater company meeting for rehearsal. At the outset, they launch into a rehearsal of King Lear, then abruptly stop to run the “new-work.” The “new work” is a young company member’s play based on the Great American Novel by Melville. The result is a performance without scenery, props, or large mammals. The result is theater in the buff.
At a previous performance of the play, an audience member gushed, “It was all I could do to keep from looking behind me to see if there was a whale there!” The response is typical for a partner in this social medium. Both audience and performer engage within the ephemeral delight of mutual imagination. The intersection of this engagement is pure theater, something not only to behold, but also something to experience.
Before the narrative begins the same actor with the cane steps down stage to address the audience and “crudely paraphrases” the Bard:
Piece out our imperfections with your mind;
Think – when we speak of whaleboats, whales and oceans,
That you see them – For ‘tis your thoughts
That now must deck our stage; jumping over time;
Turning the accomplishments of many years
Into an hour-glass . . .”
Moby Dick – Rehearsed! plays 8pm Thursdays through Saturdays, 2pm Sundays, March 22 – April 15, 2012 at the Columbus Civic Theater, 3837 Indianola Ave. go to columbuscivic.org for more info.
GCAC Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus – in partnership with the Columbus Arts Marketing Association, a professional development and networking association of arts marketers. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at the arts in Columbus.