Friday, May 20, 2005

Moby Dick, or Reina Conquers the Actor's Nightmare

Last night, I had that dream. You know, where you show up somewhere, and you're expected to be in a play, only you've been to no rehearsals, and you don't know any lines, and the audience members are fondling luger guns and licking their teeth? Yes. That dream.

It was a hopelessly avant-garde adaptation of Moby Dick, put on in a dirty vast black paint and concrete industrial space that was a bit like the former Women in the Director's chair, but larger and squarer. About six cast members were flitting around manipulating objects in ways that may or may not have had something to do with Melville. An equal number of audience members watched in confusion (ah, the accuracy of my dreams.)

I was handed a mask, and the information that I was late and meant to be Ishmael. "No sweat," I thought, "I have read nearly the first third of Moby Dick, and that Ishmael is a swell guy." I stalked around for a minute, taking the measure of my castmates, then ran out of the room, discarded the mask, ran back in and, shaking everyone's hand pronounced, "Hi! Hi! I'm so sorry I'm late. You can call me Ishmael." I then stared in surprise at an undulating fellow actor. Uproarious laughter and applause.

"I was," said I "Your basic young schoolteacher type who, pressed both for cash and way of making life really real, that is romance, and adventure and really wild things, an indeterminate number of years ago went down to this harbor town with an idea of getting a berth on a ship." As I plowed through the story, my castmates made ships fly and carried me about and attacked me with paper bags, all in ways that seemed quite appropriate at the time. I was putting in plenty of detail, hoping that someone would call an intermission before I got to the point in the book where I'd left the damn thing on the Montrose bus two years ago. I intended to dash out and buy a Cliff's Notes perhaps.

However, just before dear Ishmael met Queequog, and while the other actors were rolling me up in some musty carpet, I woke up. Feeling tough and intelligent.

I had the actor's nightmare, and I kicked its butt.

Let me leave you with my favorite line from the first third of Moby Dick, about Earth and Heaven: "Here ye strike but splintered hearts together --there, ye shall strike unsplinterable glasses! "