FORT WORTH -- You could hardly expect anyone to make a stage adaptation of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick that would capture all the detail in the prose or assay the characters and subplots thoroughly without running at least five hours. The Dallas Opera premiered a version of the story in 2010 that was typical opera length and still had to boil down the story quite a bit.
To put in perspective the version adapted and directed by Lake Simons for Hip Pocket Theatre, it runs just 45 minutes. But the point is not to acquaint us with characters such as Elijah, Starbuck or Pip or to attempt some of that long prose about processing slaughtered whales. Rather, the concept is to illustrate -- in typically imaginative Lake Simons puppetry and physical theater style -- the central conflict: Captain Ahab (Michael Joe Goggans) and his quest for that white sperm whale.
On that charge, she and the cast can claim success.
This version uses a Female Chorus (Elizabeth Parker, Susan Ridgley, Mimi Kayl-Vaughan, Elysia Worcester), portraying the sea and its creatures; the Male Chorus (Marcos Barron, Allen Dean, Joshua Sherman) is the Pequod crew. They speak part of Ishmael's narration, picking out some of Melville's choice stylized and alliterative passages, but it's not what's spoken that will stick with you.
Through movement, the ensemble gives us a sense of the nature, of waves and water and schools of fish. The Pequod is represented in various ways, including by a toy boat; one scene that shows weeks of calm sea and inactivity as the actors pass the toy slowly along is particularly lovely.
Aside from one bit of shadow puppetry in a restless dream from Ahab, the puppetry is not conventional, which we've come to expect from Lake. The whales are portrayed by flowing cylinders of cloth, as water from a blowhole, manipulated by the women. When the crew members go after a whale in smaller boats, the boats are imaginatively done with bamboo rods that create each vessel's bow, as well as the harpoons.
An original score performed by longtime Lake Simons collaborator John Dyer sets the mood, the electric guitar alternately conveying urgency and tranquility, with whimsical Foley-like effect thrown in for such sounds as the creakiness of the ship.
You won't get Melville's whole novel -- not even close. But the struggle between man and beast, nature and, ultimately, something larger than all of us, comes through in poetic, visual storytelling.