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Theatre Review: Moby Dick at Know Theatre is "Invigorating, Captivating"

Moby Dick is Know Theatre’s latest adventure and it’s a good time, especially if you like university theater and don’t like Moby Dick. (A lot of people don’t.)
 
If you’re a Herman Melville fan, you may be disappointed with the way the tight, swift stage adaptation tosses overboard just about everything but obsessed Captain Ahab (Rico Reid) chasing his white whale nemesis.
 
You won’t smell the sea air (or the whale blubber) but what is on stage is invigorating. A cast of eight perform the best-known parts of the epic Great American Novel. 
 
It may be “Moby-lite,” but it benefits enormously from its solid ensemble (not counting Reid, who is an unfortunate choice) who sing sea chanties as they sail across the world, work rigging, hoist sails, row toward an unknown fate as they try to harpoon their quarry – a task which makes “Deadliest Catch” look easy. 
 
It’s a captivating, environmental production – like so many shows Moby Dick co-director Michael Burnham brought to the College-Conservatory of Music stage at University of Cincinnati until he retired from the drama department faculty. Burnham is sharing directing duties with Andrew Hungerford, also scenic and lighting designer and in his first season as Know producing artistic director.
 
Factor in that tickets are $20 – the price of some community theaters – and that it’s within a five-minute walk of lots of good restaurants (three showcased on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” a couple weeks ago) it’s easy to give Know a try.
 
The whaler’s crew is filled with good young Cincinnati actors. Montez Jenkins stands out as Queequeg, the body-painted, South Pacific islander and “savage” who is the Pequod’s harpooner; Jon Kovach is strong (as always) in a variety of roles and Justin McCombs, Cincinnati Shakespeare resident company member makes his Know debut as Starbuck, a man of reason doomed because he chooses to follow the orders of a man who is clearly bonkers.
 
The opening line of Moby Dick is, of course, iconic: “Call me Ishmael.” He is the book’s narrator but more of a guide from scene-to-scene in the play. Sam Ray is appealing, but what with the script jettisoning themes, he’s not left with much to do. Chris Wesselman, another reliable performer, is the ship’s cheery second mate. 
 
The first act works well as characters and plot are sketched in and Ahab and his wooden leg mostly walk the deck. They (Ahab and his pegleg) are front and center in the second act and Reid carries Ahab into melodrama, showing plenty of madness but not the presence to captain a ship and quell potential mutiny. Just as bad, his enunciation needs work. 
 
Moby Dick, through Nov. 8. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $20, rush tickets $10 10 minutes before curtain (cash only.) Wednesday night performances are free, to encourage low income folks to try theatre. (Don’t cheat!) 513-300-5669 and www.knowtheatre.com
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts