Moby-Dick | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Redmoon Theater, at Pegasus Players.

In the span of 90 minutes we're told the story of Moby-Dick not one but three times: first with two hand puppets that grapple together until the announcement "The whale wins," then in greater detail with Bunraku and stick puppets on a miniature fairground stage. Finally we're introduced to the characters--live actors wearing immense portrait masks--who recount the saga again in a series of stylized scenes employing motifs from Asian theater and displaying an astonishing variety of mobile mannequins, Redmoon's stock-in-trade.

The craftsmanship is indisputable, and one recalls image after vivid image of inspired iconography--the streams of red-cloth blood in which superstitious harpooners cool a newly forged blade, the silhouettes projected onto the Pequod's sails, the whale carcass that smoothly unpeels to reveal neat kegs of oil. Other images can be painfully literal, however, and still others annoyingly enigmatic--as when the live-action Ahab binds the miniature Ahab to a chair just before the larger-than-life Ahab meets his doom.

Compared with Redmoon's energetic, rough-and-ready 1990 alfresco production of Melville's classic tale, this treatment seems somewhat cold and overrefined (with the exception of Michael Zerang's incidental music, played by a quintet of stageside musicians, mimicking whale's cries and whipping up sea storms so real we can almost taste the salt and feel the spray). But any loss of content or immediacy is more than redeemed by the grand-scale spectacle and exotic pageantry.

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