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Rinde Eckert’s “And God Created Great Whales” Is a Haunting, Thrilling PlayMakers Theater Experience

Rinde Eckert and Nora Cole will reprise the roles that they played Off-Broadway in the musical "And God Created Great Whales" (photo by Caleb Wertenbaker)

Rinde Eckert and Nora Cole will reprise the roles that they played Off-Broadway in the musical “And God Created Great Whales” (photo by Caleb Wertenbaker)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC actor, director, and theater and music critic. To read all of his Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.

Before And God Created Great Whales even begins, the PlayMakers Repertory Company audience has visions of what was to come. As they settle into their seats, Nathan, the central character played by Rinde Eckert, sits at a baby grand piano, fiercely scribbling onto music paper, shifting and sorting, erasing and rewriting; and then he stops and stares off into nothing.

Rinde Eckert, the creator and composer of this extraordinary show, now playing in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre as part of PlayMakers‘ PRC2 second-stage series, ferociously portrays Nathan — a man determined to create an opera based on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The problem, though, is that Nathan has been diagnosed with a degenerative mental disease that is slowly eating away at his memories and his ability to create.

One of the greatest accomplishments of And God Created Great Whales is that we, the audience, ultimately receive what Nathan struggles the entire time to create. In his moments of lucidity, Nathan and his Muse (Nora Cole) enact the scenes as they are created. Their voices boom through the Kenan Theatre.

Nathan plunks out thrilling lines of music that are then overtaken by pre-recorded tracks that allow Nathan and his Muse to take on characters, to play out chilling operatic moments, sometimes escalating into the frenzied territory of Nathan’s dementia; and then as quickly as they arrived there, we are thrust into darkness and then slowly restored to something familiar, preparing to travel on the next leg of the journey — act by act, scene by scene.

Apart from the Muse, Nathan has worked to assist himself as best he can: he wears a tape recorder around his neck explaining his situation: his memory loss, his goal for completion; and as we watch Nathan spiral further into the void, the tape he plays continues as well and the instructions become more grave. There are other tape recorders — color-coded for different things. One of them is a Master Tape Recorder that holds the sounds of the completed parts to the opera that Nathan is creating, and it’s a smart and affecting device.

But beneath all of this is a love story (isn’t there always?). Nathan is in love with an opera singer; the Muse is created in her image. One tape recorder holds only recorded messages from her. He writes a role for her in the male-dominated story per her request; he works to find the right place for it, the right message — a warning or a promise … or both? It is she, in the end, who is called upon to retrieve the finished piece. When she walks into the stage in her full-length white coat, we recognize her instantly; and it is the best type of revelation, both moving and completely unexpected.

Having been with the OBIE Award®-winning piece since its conception some 12 years ago, Rinde Eckert and Nora Cole have incredible chemistry and work flawlessly together. Eckert’s compositions are beautiful, haunting. They linger long past the time they cease to be.

David Schweizer has a masterful directorial hand over these two strong performers. Ably supported by Clint Ramos‘ costuming and Kevin Adams‘ lighting design, And God Created Great Whales is a truly unique, exhilarating theatrical experience.

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 10th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5941; Jan. 10th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel review by Josephine Yurcaba (who awarded the show 4.5 out of 5 stars): http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/01/great-whales-is-an-eerie-success and Jan. 8th preview by Josephine Yurcaba: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/01/great-whales-explores-meaning-of-memory; Jan. 10th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2013/01/10/memory-as-muse-at-prc2-rinde-eckerts-and-god-created-great-whales/;  and Dec. 24th Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com review by Anne Brenner, with additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend: http://chapelboro.com/pages/15112331.php. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 8th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/01/rinde-eckert-and-nora-cole-will-reprise-their-roles-in-and-god-created-great-whales-at-playmakers/.)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents AND GOD CREATED GREAT WHALES, created, written and composed by Rinde Eckert, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 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.

TICKETS: $25-$40.

BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, miwashin@email.unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/greatwhales.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/.

BLOG: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/kenan.

PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo/.

OTHER LINKS:

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).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC actor, director, and theater and music critic. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Jesse R. Gephart’sTriangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.

 

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