Lookingglass Theatre’s ‘Moby Dick’ says "Ahoy Mateys–and Ladies"

Moby Dick at Lookingglass Theatre

At first glance, there’s nary a female voice in “Moby Dick.” Yet amid Captain Ahab (Nathan Hosner), Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III), Starbuck (Kareem Bandealy), Cabaco (Micah Figueroa), Mungun (Javen Ulambayar), and two Ishmaels (Jamie Abelson/Walter Owen Briggs) to call, Lookingglass Theatre’s award-winning play showcases more than just one woman’s touch. Indeed, the manly classic by Herman Melville would have had an all-male cast had Adaptor/Director David Catlin not created a female Greek Chorus featuring Kelly Abell, Cordelia Dewdney and Mattie Hawkinson.

“He also put together a talented design team, including Scenic Designer Courtney O’Neill, Costume Designer Sully Ratke, Properties Designer Amanda Herrmann and Circus Choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi supported by a team of women on staff including a stage manager, production manager, technical director and artistic director,” says Executive Director Rachel Kraft. “The balance between a largely male cast and an environment that has been designed and implemented in a large part by women creates a wonderful yin and yang that plays out magically onstage.”

The bounty of working women at Lookingglass is something of a rarity since the fairer sex remain a minority on the theater scene–at least backstage. Only 189 women, for example, make up the 3,351 crew members of Local 1 (which includes Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Met, and all Broadway theaters) of New York’s International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Statistics across the pond are no different: A 2011-’12 study complied by the Guardian and Elizabeth Freestone of Pentabus Theatre shows only 23 percent of crew positions (directors, set designers, sound designers, lighting designers, and composers) in UK theaters are held by females, despite the fact that they count for 68% of theater audiences.

“By bringing so many women into the production process itself, and being keenly aware of the high percentage of women who make up the Lookingglass audiences, David Catlin knowingly incorporates all of those forces into the creation of his world. The result is an honest and whole balance in storytelling: a truly beautiful thing,” says the show’s costume designer.

“I think that he, a devoted husband and the father of two daughters, has a great sensitivity for the role of the unseen women in Ishmael’s story: They provide purpose, resistance, tension, and conflict,” continues Ratke. “David pushes their parts even further as he examines the depths of those cosmic female energies: winds, waters, fires, and fates. The cradling support of a mother sea. The damning pulling punishment of her drowning currents. The guiding force of her starry skies…For me, David has an appreciation for the fact that although Melville’s tale seems driven by the physical world of men, it is impossible to separate such a world from the female forces that electrify it.”

Presented in association with The Actors Gymnasium, “Moby Dick” runs through Sept. 3 at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan Ave. For tickets ($35-$80), visit lookingglasstheatre.org.

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(Photo by Liz Lauren, Courtesy of Lookingglass Theatre Company)

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.