Whale of a tale! ‘Moby-Dick’ adaptation performs on the water

Whale of a tale! ‘Moby-Dick’ adaptation performs on the water
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

They are fresh on the boat!

A Greenpoint theater troupe will take to the waves on Oct. 22 with an adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” — performing the whale tale on a Red Hook barge. The inaugural show from the Threadbare Theatre Workshop, titled “Or, the Whale” will use the nearly 100-year-old barge to provides a unique level of realism for a play set in the watery parts of the world, says the company’s artistic director.

“The barge is so beautiful,” said Kate Russell. “It’s already floating, it’s already on the water, and it captures a lot of that whaling essence for us.”

The old boat in question is the last surviving example of a wooden railroad barge, according to Captain David Sharps, owner of Threadbare’s new venue, the Lehigh Valley Barge. Now, the vessel serves as a museum and sometimes stage venue. The Threadbare company, which first gave the show a dry-dock reading last April, will use the entire barge as an immersive stage for its upcoming adaptation, according to Russell.

“The audience will be experiencing the play from all angles,” she said.

Melville’s 600-page epic about mad Captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale who chomped off his leg has been slimmed down to a performance of about two hours, says Russell. But the show retains some of the author’s infamous dissertations on the various minutiae of 19th century whaling vessels, including a notoriously lengthy chapter in which the author describes a specific type of rope, the whale-line, along with its function and how it differs from other such hempen cords. Russell says that the adaptation distills some of Melville’s less thrilling chapters into asides, in which protagonist Ishmael breaks the fourth wall and explains various aspects of whaling that are relevant to the story.

“I have not kept his dissertations, but I have kept Ishmael to confide in the audience and let them in on those secrets and history of whaling,” said Russell. “He’s always checking in.”

The barge is no whaling ship, lacking the tryworks, hempen rope, harpoons, and other grim implements so lovingly detailed in Melville’s dark epic. But Threadbare, true to its name, plans on making do with the bare necessities, Russell explained.

“The mission of Threadbare is to illuminate epics in a simple way through the magic of resourceful storytelling,” she said.

A center beam that supports the ceiling will serve as the main mast of the whaling ship, and you can bet your bottom dollar that old Captain Ahab will spur his crew on towards the hunt for the white whale by nailing a golden doubloon into it, Russell said.

And the production’s cast of eight will work hard to a accommodate a whole boat-load of characters, wearing many hats once the show starts — literally.

“In the spirit of Threadbare, the actors change their hats and dialect and become someone else,” said Russell.

“Or, the Whale” at the Waterfront Barge Museum (290 Conover St. between Reed Street and the waterfront in Red Hook, threadbare.brownpapertickets.com]. $18. Oct. 22–24 at 7:30 pm, Oct. 25 at 2 pm.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.