Many plays are designed to serve as semi-mindless entertainment—they are watched, enjoyed, and then promptly forgotten. Playmakers’ And God Created Great Whales is not that kind of play. It is not watched so much as it is experienced, and its haunting images are the sort that stick with the viewer long after the curtains have gone down. The production, which stars its brilliant writer and composer, Rinde Eckert, has been produced off-Broadway and is an OBIE award winner.
Eckert portrays Nathan, a man tasked with composing an opera based on Moby Dick and burdened by a degenerative disease that is destroying his memory. He tries to keep his memory loss at bay by relying on an intricately designed system of tape recorders, and his larger-than-life muse, portrayed by the graceful Nora Cole, is also there to urge him on.
The simple set on which the pair act out this race against time features a piano covered in memos and tape recorders strung from the ceiling, both of which effectively convey the urgency and desperation of Nathan’s quest. Bold lighting choices also intensify the drama of this sad but ultimately touching story. While the slightly chaotic, avant-garde style is not for everyone, there is so much beauty here that most viewers will be thoroughly captivated.
While the show is, in many ways, a sort of re-imagining of Moby Dick, it also become something all its own. What it means to be an artist and creator, what we do with our short time here on earth and, of course, the mystery of memory are all themes that flit to the surface. But, like the pieces of Nathan’s own shoddy memory, these ideas only appear for a brief moment before they’re gone. It’s only later, after the show, that the viewer can go home and fully digest this beautiful piece.