Renegade’s contemporary deconstruction of Herman Melville’s classic novel about one man’s vengeful obsession with an eponymous white whale features a tour-de-force solo performance by Ed Swidey and a penetrating script by Swidey and lead writer Michael Durkin, who conceived and directs the production. Durkin has seamlessly interwoven Melville’s story with that of Robert, a father who feels he has lost everything and, like the monomaniacal Captain Ahab, wants back what has been taken from him (for Ahab, his leg; for Robert, his son; for both, their former lives). Staged in a Philadelphia row house, the production makes full use of the ground floor doorways, kitchen, and living room (where the audience is seated and participates in the action), and the stairway up to the second floor’s titular bathtub, where Swidey’s performance continues, live-streamed to the viewers on a digital flat-screen TV in the room below.
Swidey has consistently proven to be one of Philadelphia’s greatest actors, and here offers his best portrayal to date, capturing all the pressure and agitation, building the tension, and evincing the toll that personal turmoil and trauma can take on the psyche of a man pushed to his limits. From the moment he bursts in, stressed out, through the front door, until his complete emotional meltdown and psychotic break, he is fully believable and enthralling. The actor’s nakedness here is not gratuitous nudity designed to sell tickets, but a sobering metaphor of a tortured soul stripped bare of everything—his family, his dignity, and his sanity. This is Fringe at its finest; a highly original, creative, experimental work in an alternative space on a small budget, but one that remains consummately professional—a superbly acted, sensitively written, powerful analysis of the human condition. [18th & Wharton Sts.] September 4-22, 2013, fringearts.ticketleap.com/bathtub-moby-dick.