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Ishmael. Ahab. the whale. all one man

Jan 1, 2003

On the evening of July 19, 2001, Carlo Adinolfi appeared at theNew Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts to perform his One-Man Moby Dick show as part of the museum's continuing celebration of Herman Melville's most famous novel, 150 years after its publication. God, pity a writer after he's gone.

Adinolfi began by banging on the museum's auditorium door, entering as Ishmael, shirtless and shoeless, and grinning as if he had stumbled across some vaguely intriguing novelty that he couldn't wait to share with the expectant audience. The crowd laughed, kindredly, with Adinolfi's depiction of a most cheerful narrator, an Ishmael complete with a "naff" British accent and a soft spot in his heart for good old Pip and his tambourine. Pip was played by a wooden stick figure on a string, with Adinolfi providing voice and occasionally shaking him around. Pip did fare better than Starbuck, represented by a hat on an upright oar, and the other mates as well, Flask and Stubb, symbolized by a whale tooth and a pipe, respectively, also fastened to oars. Adinolfi necessarily jettisoned most of the cetological aspects of the novel, sticking to the plot and transitioning from one character to another; yet, he did play several whales. Most notable was his portrayal of a bull about to be butchered by Pequod's crew; the one-man gang turned his back on the audience, wrapped his arms around himself, and let out a long, ascending groan, a kind of New-Age purgation.

There was a sort of sporting appeal in trying to guess where his various props would land when they were no longer needed and were thus tossed aside or simply fell down, occasionally coming to rest upon another prop not yet pressed into service. The ultimate prop doppelganger was constructed of thin ribs of wood bound together with string, fashioning a whaleboat without a bottom and, when flipped over and draped with a white cloth, became Moby Dick. A large individual sitting in the front row was treated with a shower of great guffaws when Adinolfi dragged a child's toy ship across the stage carpet with a line of string, and declared, in what I suppose was a tiny whaling man's voice, that here was "a big one." He proceeded to turn his rig in the direction of the auditorium exit, onward, in search of the great white whale.

The entire performance lasted about an hour and a half, and Adinolfi's stamina was remarkably unflagging. Afterwards, the audience stood and clapped, and I wondered what Melville would have thought. I am still in the pursuit of the point of this performance. Tonight, for my own peace of mind, I have decided upon the deception that Melville would've maintained that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and that nothing is ever done so badly that someone else couldn't do worse, so long as you get a laugh out of it.


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