Multi-colored tape recorders hang from ropes at every end of the stage. A man sits slumped at a piano that is covered with sticky-notes and surrounded by an eclectic collection of treasures from and about the sea. The description of Rinde Eckert’s And God Created Great Whales, which is playing at the Redcat Theater until Sunday, lets the audience know that this production will be a new experience for them. Written, composed, created, sound designed and even starring Rinde Eckert this production is mind blowing; it is hilarious as well as heart breaking.
Eckert has created a character, Nathan who captures the audience’s hearts the minute he presses play on the tape recorder draped around his neck. His own voice recites instructions, informing him of his name, his disease that is taking his memory away from him day by day and also that his is currently writing an opera based on the novel Moby Dick. The way Nathan bends over and stares at the tape recorder in disbelief as his voice tells him of his opera sends the audience into laughter. Nathan also informs himself that there is a woman in the corner that is a creation of his imagination, she is a muse and helps him with his opera and keeps him on track.
Nora Cole as Olivia the muse is funny breathtaking and heart wrenching as she tries to pull Nathan back from the grasps of dementia. At times Nathan laps into repetition where he has to be snapped back into reality. The opening scene is repeated three times with him playing the tape further along each time. Nathan on the recorder tells him that if he is still listening to the tape his disease has progressed further. Though the audience spends most of the piece chuckling at Nathan’s misfortunes, they are eventually smacked in the face with his ultimate demise.
Eckert has created a music-filled masterpiece, perfectly directed by David Schweizer, on a stationary set with only two set pieces, stairs, which Olivia perches upon and a Grande piano, Nathan’s instrument for his creation. As the two characters sing parts of Nathan’s opera the story within the story begins to intertwine. They are both telling of an ultimate demise of being defeated by their greatest fear. Eckert and Cole first performed this piece in 2000 and have brought it back to life with the help of Schweizer for this weekend only. It is a piece of theater that will leave you in complete awe and amazement. It seems almost unfair that Eckert possesses so much talent, maybe he could have left a little for the rest of us.