Moby Dick at Arena Stage

The 19th century novel “Moby Dick” represents a lot of things to different people, just as its titular whale does to the other characters in the story.  To academics, the book is a masterpiece of American literature, rich with symbolism. To many students, it is a slog that sends them the lifeboat of Cliff Notes. To most, though, “Moby Dick” has become a folk tale, a well-known tale of a crazy white whale and even the crazier whaling captain hunting for him.

Thus, for any adaptation of “Moby Dick,” the challenge lies in presenting the story afresh. “Moby Dick,” now running at the Arena Stage, succeeds through its imaginative use of the basic tools of theater: sets, lighting, and costumes.

The standout feature of this production — the one that audience members leave talking about — is the show’s acrobatics.  The show was developed by Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company with the assistance of Actors Gymnasium, a Chicago organization that teaches acrobatics to actors and the public.

Moby DIck at Arena Stage

The acrobats’ involvement pays off in “Moby Dick.”  Curved aluminum poles surround the stage, evoking both the ribs of a whale and the masts of a ship.  As Ishmael, Queequeg, and Starbuck, the cast clambers up curved poles, like circus acrobats — or whaling ship sailors.  At key moments depicting drowning, whale slaughtering, or the deepening monomania of Captain Ahab (in a stand-out performance by Christopher Donahue), actors become aerialists, swinging from ribbons high above the stage.

The inventiveness of the stagecraft extends to the costumes, as skirts bloom across the stage to represent whale blubber in one scene and the entire ocean in another.  The lighting, too, becomes a key factor during the show’s climax, unexpectedly turning one of literature’s best-known scenes into something resembling a horror movie.

Ultimately, even if you’re familiar with the story of Ahab and his white whale, this “Moby Dick” presents a creative retelling well worth your time.

“Moby Dick” is currently running at the Arena Stage through December 24, 2016. Get tickets now.

Watch the cast discuss the Fates in Moby Dick:

Know Before You Go:

  • Mead Center Parking: The entrance to the parking garage is accessible from the northbound lane of Maine Avenue. Subscribers and single-ticket purchasers may purchase parking in advance by calling the Sales Office at 202-488-3300. The subscriber rate for parking is $16 per performance. Single ticket purchasers may reserve in advance for $19 per parking space. Advance reservations and rates discontinue 3 hours prior to curtain. Any parking available on the day of the performance will be sold at the garage on a first-come, first-served basis for $22. Handicapped parking may also be purchased in advance with a copy of a valid handicap parking tag. The garage is open from 10 a.m. until 1 hour after the end of the performance. Reserve here
  • Discounted parking is available for $12 at 1101 Fourth Street, SW. Enter at 1101 Fourth Street, across from the Safeway.
    The garage is a short walk around the corner to the Mead Center for American Theater at 1101 Sixth Street. The lot is available on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the event only, and payment will be collected at that time. Please visit the Visitors Services Desk as you exit the Mead Center to have your parking ticket validated if you entered the parking garage before 5:00 p.m. on a weekday. After 5:00 p.m. weekdays, or all day on weekends, you may now prepay for your parking at the ‘Pay Station’ in the garage for only $12.
  • New off-site parking option (recommended for weekday matinees): For all performances, parking is available at 25 M Street SW, just off South Capitol Street. Parking at this location costs $20 and includes a direct shuttle to Arena Stage. Shuttles run approximately every 10 minutes.
  • Catwalk Cafe: Treat yourself to a convenient prix fixe meal of tasty selections. Enjoy choice of soup or salad, main entrée and dessert — all for just $25 ($22 when you pre-order, $20 if you’re an Arena Stage subscriber). Available two hours before the show. Call 202-488-3300 or click here