Small Production, Big Impact

By Neva Gakavian (Excerpt from original piece)

One hundred and sixty-one years to the day after Moby Dick was published, I had the privilege to see this classic story interpreted for modern theater in Rinde Eckert’s And God Created Great Whales. Eckert conceived the play and performed Nathan, the main character — a brilliant man trying to complete his musical about Moby Dick before he completely loses his memory. To stay on track, his mind has created an imaginary, eccentric woman portrayed by Nora Cole. These two strong actors had the presence of fifty. They filled the stage with life and proved that a successful production isn’t measured by its size or scope but by the passion of the actors and their ability to connect to the audience.

The play opens with the audience learning of Nathan’s desperate situation. As Nathan starts reviewing the beginning of his own musical, he and his muse sing, dance and act out the various scenes while also playing several instruments and doing impressions. It was entertaining to watch as it transported me into Nathan’s imaginative and creative mind. However, I began to tear up as I was jarred out of his fantasy world and learned the truth behind this mysterious woman. She is based after a woman he loves, Olivia, but never expressed his feelings toward. As the play continues, Nathan progresses with his play but continues to degenerate mentally. We are bounced through his varying mental states of confusion, enlightenment, conviction, distress and despair while he acts out his musical and deals with his reality.

Whales was presented in a black box format with no curtain and, as I walked into the seating area, it was as if I was entering the stage. The props were visible and the main character appeared before the play began. The play started late but, even so, I stayed for an extra half hour to talk to Eckert and Cole. I wasn’t just passively viewing; instead I was actively engaging in the play’s life and emotion. This newfound intimacy of theater is now something I wish for in all future performances I will attend.

And God Created Great Whales was bold, creative, daring and like nothing I have ever seen before. No amount of funding, elaborate sets or costumes can have the impact of a small team desiring to bring their perspective on humanity to the attention of others. In the need to bring in large crowds and sell a lot of tickets, performing arts institutions can push smaller contemporary pieces to the sidelines. Luckily, the Clarice Smith Center doesn’t do this, so we have a unique opportunity to experience a variety of artistic performances there. Whales is the kind of production that I know I wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else, and it left a permanent impression on my mind.