PlayMakers Repertory Company will present the OBIE Award-winning musical drama And God Created Great Whales, created, written, and composed by Rinde Eckert, on Jan. 9-13 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art. The New York Times has saluted Eckert as “an American loner — eccentric with touches of Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Waits.”
Original cast members Rinde Eckert and Nora Cole will perform this provocative piece, which won a 2000-01 OBIE Award for Best Performance and also received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Unique Theatrical Experience.
And God Created Great Whales opened on Nov. 14, 2001 at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker/Bleecker Street Theatre, where it ran until Jan. 13, 2002.
PlayMakers Repertory Company is presenting MOM as part of its PRC2 second-stage series in which each performance is followed by a talkback with cast and creative team and experts on the subjects raised in the play.
According to PlayMakers Repertory Company:
“And God Created Great Whales is a haunting musical adventure into the psyche of a composer trying to create an opera based on [Herman Melville’s] classic novel Moby Dick . Desperately fighting a degenerative disease eating away at his mind, each day the artist [played by Rinde Eckert] must rely on a tape recorder hung around his neck and a muse [played by Nora Cole] born of his imagination to instruct him on his work….
“‘Grammy Award®-winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rinde Eckert displays his full creative force in this frenzied, funny and moving play,’ said Joseph Haj, PlayMakers‘ producing artistic director.”
In an exclusive interview with Triangle Review, Rinde Eckert recalled the origins of And God Created Great Whales: “I was approached by a writer friend of mine after he saw my piece The Gardening of Thomas D., which was based on Dante’s Commedia. He felt I should come home to America with my next piece, and suggested we work together on Moby-Dick. Before we could begin, he got involved in writing a novel and left the entire project to me. Shortly thereafter, Melanie Joseph became interested and The Foundry Theater produced the work.”
Eckert adds, The piece has evolved subtly over the years, but the revisions have had little to do with audience response, since the response to the piece has been gratifyingly positive from the very first performance at Dance Theater Workshop in the spring of 2000 (this was followed by runs at The Culture Project in 2000, 2001, and 2012). We also did a run of the show at CenterStage, Baltimore.”
When the curtain rises on And God Created Great Whales, Rinde Eckert says, the PlayMakers Repertory Company audience will meet: “Nathan (played by me), [who] is a piano tuner who has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder. He is losing his memory,” explains Eckert. “In view of this, he wishes to leave a legacy in the form of an opera of Moby-Dick he has long imagined composing. He enlists the aid of a Muse (Nora Cole), an imaginary copy of a famous opera singer whose piano he regularly tuned.”
Eckert notes, “In addition to the aid of the Muse, Nathan employs various mnemonic devices to help jog his memory — flash cards, Post-it notes, various tape recorders, and, notably, one principal tape recorder strapped to his neck. He and his Muse struggle to complete his opera, racing against time as his memory continues to degenerate.”
In addition to creator/writer/composer/performer Rinde Eckert and PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for And God Created Great Whales includes director David Schweizer, PlayMakers production manager Michael Rolleri, original lighting designer Kevin Adams, lighting technician Temishia Johnson, costume designer Clint Ramos, and production stage manager Scott Pegg. Schweizer, Adams, and Ramos were all part of the creative team for the show’s off-Broadway presentation.
Rinde Eckert says, The set is essentially a piano, lashed with rope and covered in Post-it notes and Moby-Dick memorabilia. The piano serves as a surrogate whaling ship, as Nathan and the Muse act out scenes from Nathan’s opera and Nathan plays his musical sketches.”
He adds, “The whole scene takes place on three different twilight nights. There is a sort of cyclorama that provides a kind of background of different colored skies….
“Nathan is in a rumpled gray suit with a bow tie and vest,” notes Eckert. “The Muse is in a shabby red costume dress, as if Nathan wasn’t able to imagine her in anything elegant. (Later, when the Muse has vanished, Nora returns to the stage as Olivia Walsh, the opera singer Nathan has imagined as his Muse. Olivia wears an elegant white coat, with a fur collar, and a stylish hat, very much the diva).
Rinde Eckert claims, “The piece is something of a tour de force for both cast members. We’re in more or less constant motion from beginning to end, speaking, singing, and dancing.”
He adds, “It’s helpful to have read Moby-Dick, but not necessary. We’ll take you on the journey whether you know the book or not.”
In reviewing the show’s off-Broadway production, the Los Angeles Times called the piece “dazzling”; and The New Yorker review declared, “Every element of Eckert’s play is masterly — his performance … poignant, his music varied and lovely, his dancing divine, his musings profound.”
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 24th Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com review by Anne Brenner, with additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend: http://chapelboro.com/pages/15112331.php.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents AND GOD CREATED GREAT WHALES, created, written and composed by Rinde Eckert, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9-12 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
And God Created Great Whales: http://www.rindeeckert.com/projects/projects_greatwhales.html (official web page).
Rinde Eckert: http://www.rindeeckert.com/ (official website).
David Schweizer: http://broadwayworld.com/people/David-Schweizer/ (BroadwayWorld.com bio).
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