• Whale of a Tale

    Phil Kloer
     | Jan 13, 2017


    Moby Dick

    Lookingglass Theatre Company's production of Moby Dick.

    Director David Catlin speaks with cast members

    Director David Catlin speaks with cast members.

    Director David Catlin envisioned that the way sailors would swing through the rigging on a 19th-century whaling vessel like the Pequod could be expressed by trained acrobats and aerialists.

    Moby Dick

    Raymond Fox, Micah Figueroa, Javen Ulambayer, Kareem Bandealy, Jamie Abelson and Anthony Fleming III in Moby Dick.

    “Moby Dick is set up throughout the book,” says director David Catlin. “If we have done our job, then the audience’s imagination has created a whale beyond anything that can be realistically rendered.”

    The women of Moby Dick

    Monica West, Kasey Foster and Emma Cadd in Moby Dick.

    Many years ago, theatres would sometimes hire unemployed sailors to work as stagehands. These sailors carried some of their nautical ideas and nomenclature backstage, which is why sets are raised and lowered with rigging and pulleys, like sails, and actors walk on the “deck.”

    It’s a well-traveled bit of theat​re lore, even though some scholars maintain it’s largely fiction. But fact or legend or a little of both, it's a connection embraced by David Catlin embraces the connection because it dovetails so perfectly with his high-flying adaptation of Moby-Dick, which combines circus-style acrobatics with Herman Melville’s dense 19th-century allegorical whaling epic.

    Catlin is a founding member of Lookingglass Theatre, a Chicago-based company known for their imaginative and challenging literary adaptations. Catlin’s hallucinatory Lookingglass Alice (as in Wonderland) has delighted audiences in New York and across the country since its 2005 premiere. His latest adaptation, Moby Dick, traveled to the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Ga., and the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., before arriving at South Coast Repertory for its west coast premiere.

    When Melville published Moby-Dick; or, The Whale in 1851, it was a failure. The London Observer called it “a rhapsody run mad,” and it was not until well into the 20thcentury that literary critics elevated it to the high shelf of Great American Novel, even if it’s one that generations of literature majors have never finished.

    “It is a hard book,” Catlin says. “It is a slog. There are parts of it that I did not love when I was reading it the first time.” He was a student at Northwestern University then, “and not the best student,” he says. “I was taking a class in American literature and I put it off and put it off. Finally, I made many batches of espresso and stayed awake for two days straight and read it in a caffeinated blur. And loved it.”

    More than 20 years later, Catlin began the process of adapting Moby-Dick for the stage with the help of Chicago’s Actors Gymnasium, a circus and performing arts organization. Catlin envisioned that the way sailors would swing through the rigging on a 19th-century whaling vessel like the Pequod could be expressed by trained acrobats and aerialists. “We don’t have circus elements in every show we do, but a lot of our shows have aspects of circus,” he says. “We also have elements of dance, traditional theatre, elements that have a Shakespearean feel, and it has sort of a Gothic horror story feel to it.

    “And that’s because Melville himself uses all different kinds of linguistic styles,” Catlin says. “He will have language that is straight out of the theatre, like ‘Curtain raises on the foredeck. Enter Ahab.’ He has language that is on the verge of verse. He has sections that seem encyclopedic. That invites different kinds of storytelling in a dramatic version.”

    It also demands a creative set, which, with the SCR staging, is modified a bit from the original. “The set was built for Lookingglass, which is a black box, and not a very big black box,” Catlin says. “It will have somewhat of a different feel with SCR. The stagehands are very integral to the production. You see them onstage, and they contribute greatly to the action. We spend time training them. Those will all be SCR people.”

    The Pequod, the Chicago Tribune noted, is represented by a series of curved poles, which are masts, “but that also can form the carcass of the great antagonistic beast, thus suggesting that Moby Dick is on board the Pequod even before the vessel sets sail from Nantucket.” For Moby Dick lurks inside us all.

    And what of the leviathan himself, who symbolizes so much in the novel?

    “Moby Dick is set up throughout the book,” says Catlin. “If we have done our job, then the audience’s imagination has created a whale beyond anything that can be realistically rendered.” In this production, Moby Dick is represented by three actresses dressed in white who work synchronously. 

    The three women in this production tackle a variety of roles beyond the few female characters in Melville’s novel. “First they are wives and mothers saying goodbye to the whalers in Nantucket,” says actress Kasey Foster, “then they become like the Sirens in The Odyssey,” she explains, “luring them forward to their doom.” They are also the Fates, “the driving force behind every decision made for these characters,” she says.

    Eventually, they become the whale itself: Ahab’s fate. He has chased his obsession to its inevitable end, which is never in doubt.

    Learn more and buy tickets.

    Phil Kloer has written about arts and entertainment in Atlanta for 30 years, for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the website ArtsATL.com and Encore Atlanta. This piece was originally written by Encore Atlanta for the Alliance Theatre.

    Photos by Liz Lauren. © Lookingglass Theatre Company and Liz Lauren.

  • An Interview with Playwright John Glore

    Andy Knight
     | Jan 12, 2017
    John Glore

    Playwright John Glore.

    Flora & Ulysses LogoPlaywright John Glore took a moment to answer a few questions about how he adapted Kate DiCamillo's Flora & Ulysses for the stage and why he likes to write plays for audiences who are young at heart.

    South Coast Repertory: How and when did you first come across Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses? And after you finished reading the book, what made you want to adapt it for the stage?

    John Glore:
    I heard about the book shortly after it was published, while we were producing The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, another play based on one of Kate’s books. I really loved that play, so I quickly bought a copy of Flora and read it in one sitting. And as soon as I finished it, I got in touch with Kate’s representatives and asked if they would allow me to write an adaptation of Flora & Ulysses for the stage. I love the combination of humor and seriousness in the story of Flora’s difficult life and her way of escaping her troubles by reading comic books about superheroes. I find the characters charming and funny. And I thought it was really unusual that for much of the story, Flora’s mom is actually kind of the villain—although in the end we find out she means well and only wants to do what’s best for Flora.

    SCR: How long did it take you to write this play? Have you continued to work on it since you completed the first draft?

    JG: I started working on the adaptation as soon as I got permission from Kate, which was about two years ago. I finished a first draft in about four months and then I asked some of my co-workers here at SCR to help me out by reading the play out loud. Hearing the play out loud helped me learn what was working well and what needed rewriting. I also learned that I had to make it quite a bit shorter, because our shows in the Theatre for Young Audiences series can’t run longer than 70 minutes, and in that first reading the play was more like 90 minutes long. So I went back to work, off and on, for the next year. In the summer of 2016, Oregon Children’s Theatre brought me to Portland to do a workshop of the play because they will also be producing it around the same time that we do it at SCR and they wanted to help me get the play ready for those two productions. I spent three days with some actors and a director. They read the play and investigated the characters, while I listened and learned. I did some more rewriting during and after the workshop; then we had a second workshop here at SCR, where I did the same thing. I’m sure I will continue to work on the script all the way through the rehearsals for the production. I want to make it as good as it can possibly be, before our audiences come to see it.

    SCR: The character of Flora loves comic books, and the novel’s use of comic book-inspired illustrations is integral to the storytelling. How did you capture this technique in your stage adaptation?

    JG: It’s one of the things I really enjoy in the book, the way some parts of the story are told in comic-book form. So to try to capture some of the feeling of that, we’re going to be projecting things on different parts of the set—words and images—that help show what’s going on in Flora’s mind or what Ulysses is thinking. Flora loves to quote from a comic book feature called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You!,” so we’ll be projecting some of those quotes, too. Also, our set designer, François-Pierre Couture, is working with the director, Casey Stangl, to create a set that has kind of a comic-book look to it.

    SCR: It’s not fair to play favorites—but is there a character in Flora & Ulysses that you’ve come to love the most? If so, who is it and why?

    JG: I do love all the characters, and because Flora is the hero—or she’s the human hero, anyway—I particularly empathize with her. But I suppose my secret favorite is William Spiver. He’s part exasperating and part adorable. He’s the kind of kid who has a hard time making friends, because he’s a bit odd (or maybe more than a bit), and he’s incredibly smart. I was somewhat like that as a kid (not as smart as William Spiver, but smarter than some of the other kids) and I’ve never found it easy to make friends, so I guess I relate to him. But I also relate to all the characters in one way or another. I have kind of a romantic, poetic heart (which I keep very well hidden most of the time), so in that respect I relate to Tootie and Ulysses and even Phyllis. I wish I were more courageous, so in that way I relate to George. And I admire Dr. Meescham’s ability to hold onto hope and stay optimistic, even though she’s very old and has lived an incredibly difficult life. What’s interesting to me is that every character in the story feels lonely in one way or another, and I think that’s something that happens to all of us from time to time. We feel alone, we feel as though no one understands us. It’s good to be reminded that other people feel the same way and to be shown how they can overcome their loneliness.

    SCR: You’ve written quite a few Theatre for Young Audiences plays during your career. What do you like most about writing these plays?

    JG: I guess I’m still a kid at heart. I enjoy the same things in a story that young people do. And one of the great things about doing plays for kids is that you can do anything, you can let your imagination run wild. (Of course if you’re adapting someone else’s book, you do have to make sure you stay true to the original story.) The same is true for the directors and designers and actors who work with you on the production: everyone feels free to be completely creative and imaginative. And everyone is having fun. Sometimes when you do plays for adults, you feel you have to be very serious and tell difficult stories about complicated things. But the only real obligation when you write plays for kids is to make sure the kids in the audience won’t get bored. And the best way to do that is to make sure you’re never bored yourself. That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious things in plays for kids. After all, Flora is dealing with her parents’ divorce, and William Spiver has been banished from his own home and shipped off to stay with his aunt, because his mother doesn’t really understand him. But even though those are big problems— the kind of problems that many kids have to deal with in their real lives—the way Kate DiCamillo tells the story, you never stop having fun.

    Learn more and buy tickets.

  • Standing Ovation Marks Opening for West Coast Premiere of "The Roommate"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 09, 2017

    On Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, the two-person cast of Jen Silverman’s play, The Roommate, earned cheers and a standing ovation from First Night audience members. The crowd had seen that, as character Robyn says, “There’s a great liberty in being bad.”

    Silverman’s characters tugged at the heart, brought laughs and more. Bronx transplant Robyn (Tessa Auberjonois) and Sharon (Linda Gehringer) were opposites who came together, tussled, had some interesting fun times, learned and then charted new courses for their lives.

    Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson directed this lyrical production, with much appreciation from theatregoers.

    The First Night celebration moved to the Silver Trumpet Restaurant & Bar (co-sponsor of the Cast Party) at the Avenue of the Arts Hotel for some Midwest- and Iowa-inspired treats—possibly something that Sharon could’ve whipped up in her kitchen. Partygoers sampled hors d’oeuvres that included fried chicken and waffle skewers with maple aioli and even upscale deviled eggs.

    Mouths watered and appetites were satisfied with heartland staples such as meatloaf, chicken pot pie, vegetable potpie, mashed-potato martinis and buttermilk-rosemary biscuits (complete with gravy, honey and apple butter. Yum!

     And here’s another way home-cooked goodness found its way to the party: brownies done three ways (fudge, sea-salt caramel and blondies) and warm apple turnovers, topped with whipped cream. Delectable!

    From the bar, the popular signature drink was another heartland-inspired creation: the Midwest Mule, a mix of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, cranberry juice and ginger ale, with a twist of line, served over ice.

    Said First Nighter David Krajanowski: “I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did at a play about two women roommates. It was well-written and the scene with the women smoking (especially based on our new California law) was a favorite!”

  • Let’s Go A-Whalin’: Who’s Who in "Moby Dick"

     | Jan 09, 2017
    Moby Dick

    Raymond Fox, Micah Figueroa, Anthony Fleming III, Christoper Donahue, Javen Ulambayar and Jamie Abelson in Moby Dick.

    Three words open Moby Dick: “Call me…Ishmael.” That’s the name the narrator gives himself in classic Herman Melville story. He’s one of many characters who inhabit the whaling world of the tale. Which novel characters did adaptor and director David Catlin bring from page to stage for the Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Moby Dick? Here's an overview.


    ​Jamie Abelson as Ishmael.

    Ishmael: In the Old Testament, Ishmael is the biblical son of Abraham—and a wanderer and outcast. Like Melville, Ishmael in Moby Dick is an adventurer, has been a schoolteacher and served on a merchant ship. He loves the sea and, unlike Captain Ahab, sees sheer majesty in the White Whale. The voyage on the Pequod is his first whaling voyage. He’s good-natured, intelligent and a keen observer. He puts the crew and action into perspective. His good friend is Queequeg the harpooner. 


    ​Anthony Fleming III as Queequeg.

    Queequeg: Once a prince from the South Seas, Queequeg stowed away on a whaling ship to look for adventure. He’s noble, courteous, brave and generous; and, through their friendship, he shows Ishmael that race has no bearing on a man’s character (even though his face is tattooed and he peddles shrunken heads while in port). Queequeg is best harpooner on the Pequod, and given the highest share of the profit

    Captain Ahab

    ​Christopher Donahue as Ahab.

    Ahab: Captain of the Pequod, he is, says director David Catlin, “wounded and vengeful with a fateful purpose: to slay the impossible beast—evil itself.” He shares a name with the biblical King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. An earlier encounter with the White Whale resulted in Captain Ahab losing his leg. He uses a mix of charisma and terror to recruit his crew, but he frightens them with his relentless pursuit of Moby Dick.  He has been a sailor for nearly 40 years, only spending three years on dry land. 


    ​Walter Owen Briggs as Starbuck.

    Starbuck: The first mate of the Pequod is Captain Ahab’s main opponent. Starbuck is a reverent and virtuous Quaker from Nantucket who is steadfast, hardy and has good common sense; he doesn’t understand Ahab’s mad quest for Moby Dick and calls it unholy. Starbuck questions Ahab’s judgment, first in private and later in public, and tries to get the captain to turn back to port and give up pursuit of the whale. Starbuck’s relationship with Ahab runs an emotional gamut: from pity to fear to contempt.

    Moby Dick: Captain Ahab considers the White Whale to be the incarnation of evil and his fated nemesis. One hundred feet long, almost as large as the Pequod itself, the whale has been terrorizing whalers for years. Anyone tangling with him is injured—like Ahab was—or dies or loses a ship. The whale has a huge hump, deformed jaw, a wrinkled brow and is aggressive. He seems unable to be killed. 

    Father Mapple: A former harpooner and now the preacher in the New Bedford Whaleman’s Chapel, Father Mapple delivers a sermon on Jonah and the whale to address the whalemen’s lives. He’s older, educated and a bit eccentric, but is known for his sincerity.  

    Dr. Bunger: The surgeon on the Samuel Enderby, Bunger warns Captain Ahab that Moby Dick would be best left alone. He wonders about Ahab's sanity.

    Stubb: The second mate of the Pequod, Stubb is easy-going, competent and good-humored, which makes him popular with the crew. He laughs off danger and Ahab’s quest to kill the White Whale. 

    Captain Boomer: The captain of the English whaling ship the Samuel Enderby, Boomer is jovial, despite losing his arm to the White whale. Boomer is glad to have escaped the attack with his life, unlike the seething revenge that drives Captain Ahab. 

    Captain Gardiner The captain of the Rachel, the ship that finds Ishmael after the sinking of the Pequod.

    There are other characters onstage in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Moby Dick.  Read more in the program.

    Learn more and buy tickets.

  • An Interview with Author Kate DiCamillo

     | Jan 09, 2017
    Kate DiCamillo

    ​Author Kate DiCamillo.

    Book cover for Flora and Ulysses
    In this interview with book publisher Candlewick Press, author Kate DiCamillo talks about her novel’s style and inspiration—and her love of food, too!

    Candlewick Press: Candlewick has dubbed Flora & Ulysses “genre-bending” because it features a split narrative format incorporating graphic and comic style layouts and illustrations. Did you write the book this way purposely? Is this a genre you intentionally wanted to experiment with?

    Kate DiCamillo:
    I love it when you guys dub things. I’ve been going around for the last few weeks saying to myself, “I have written a genre-bending novel.” It makes me feel zippy. Alas, I cannot take any credit for the genre-bendiness. I wrote the novel as straight text. The editorial and design geniuses at Candlewick came up with the idea of doing part of the text as comics. I thought the idea was brilliant, and I said, “Holy bagumba! I will give it a try!”

    CP: Our entry point into the story of Ulysses is literally and figuratively through a vacuum cleaner. Explain how your own connection to the vacuum cleaner of all vacuum cleaners first inspired this story.

    KD: My mother had an Electrolux tank vacuum cleaner that she was, um, obsessed with. Actually, she loved the vacuum cleaner. And in a weird way, the Ulysses 2000X, and what happens because of it, is an homage to my mother. My mother loved to laugh.
    Were you a comics reader as a child, like Flora? Do you remember having any favorite superheroes?

    KD: What I read as a child, what I lived in as a child, was Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. My brother and I checked out Peanuts anthologies from the Cooper Memorial Library and read them from front to back and then started over again. My favorite superhero is Charlie Brown.

    CP: Did you have any kind of strong reactions when you first saw K.G. Campbell’s art for the book? Is it anything like what you envisioned while you were writing?

    KD: I did have a strong reaction. I levitated with joy. It’s nothing like I envisioned. It’s better than anything I am capable of envisioning.

    CP: Another common strand in many of your books is the emergence of an unlikely hero. Ulysses is about as unlikely as they get. What drew you to a squirrel for this story?

    KD: Well, there was a squirrel death on the front steps of my house. And I thought, “What if the squirrel didn’t die? What if the squirrel were rescued?” It is that “marvelous what-if” that continues to preoccupy me.

    CP: Your books have certainly navigated humor writing on many levels, particularly the series for younger readers. Was it a challenge to sustain a humorous, laugh-out-loud sort of narrative of this length?

    KD: All I know is that this book never failed to make me laugh. I did a lot of rewrites, and I laughed my way through all of them. This could be because I am crazy. Or maybe it is because the book is funny. You decide.

    CP: Many of your characters have very healthy appetites, even food fixations. What is it about food-driven characters that you love to write about?

    KD: Well, obviously, if I write about food-driven characters, then I get to write about food. Which means I get to think about food. Which I love to do. Almost as much as I like to eat food.

    CP: Flora & Ulysses has a big, bursting heart, and central to that is Flora’s relationship with her parents. She winds up in a very different place with them by the end of the story. Can you talk a little bit about that journey?

    KD: Well, that takes us back to the “marvelous what-if” again. What if things can be put back together? What if there is a way for us to reach out to each other? What if there is a way for us to take hold of the people we love? What if we were brave enough to do that? What would happen then?

    Learn more and buy tickets.

    (Interview adapted from Candlewick Press website: http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/076366040X.art.1.pdf)