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Tale of the white whale gets downsized in 'Bathtub Moby-Dick'

An unusual take on Captain Ahab for Fringe Festival

Ed Swidey creates an imaginary world in "Bathtub Moby-Dick." Credit: Daniel Kontz Ed Swidey creates an imaginary world in "Bathtub Moby-Dick."
Credit: Daniel Kontz

Michael Durkin and the members of his Renegade theater company were kicking around ideas for reimaginings of iconic literary works. “Moby Dick” was on their short list for a while, but they wanted to find a way to do something atypical, not just a staged version of the novel.

They found a way.

“Bathtub Moby-Dick” is premiering Wednesday, part of the 17th annual Fringe Festival. The play, as the title suggests, takes place in a bathtub, was inspired by the “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer decides to spend most of his time in the shower, even going so far as to install a garbage disposal in the bathtub drain. But don’t show up expecting a comedy.

“There are elements of humor – but it’s more sad, pathetic humor,” says Durkin, who wrote and directed the show. “It’s about not wanting to deal with reality. We’ve all been in the shower in the morning and think, ‘If I can just stay here the rest of the day, I’ll be good.’”

The play centers on a father, played by Ed Swidey, who asks the audience for help setting up a birthday party for his son. But the son is dead, and the father soon becomes overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, where the action switches to a live feed from a nanny cam. The audience remains in the living room, watching on a screen as the actor creates an imaginary world based on Herman Melville’s classic novel. A toy boat becomes the Pequod. First mate Starbuck is a rubber ducky.

The whole thing takes place in an apartment Durkin found through Airbnb, owned by a manager at a Center City restaurant who, conveniently, works evenings (and didn’t want his name revealed, lest his home become a hotspot for site-specific theater).

Durkin incorporated existing elements of the apartment “into the fabric of the piece,” he says. “We’ve done a couple of site-specific pieces. We’re going more towards the realm of found spaces.”

Salted rim
Medicine Womyn Mixology School is creating custom cocktails, inspired by the sea, to be sipped during the performance. The punch has a “seaweed-aloe-whiskey flavor,” Durkin says, complemented by a salted rim.

“You drink it, and your mind gets taken to this world we’re trying to create in a very literal way,” he says.

‘Bathtub Moby-Dick’
Sept. 4-22, 6 p.m.
1816 Wharton St.
$10-$15
www.therenegadecompany.org

 
 
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