By Ernest Hemingway
Adapted by Eric Ting and Craig Siebels
Directed by Clive Cholerton
Caldwell Theatre Company
At the Count de Hoernle Theatre
Once More Plumbing the Depths with ‘Papa’ Hemingway
No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in…. I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things
Ernest Hemingway speaking about The Old Man and the Sea.
In adapting this famous novella for the stage, Eric Ting and Craig Siebels have made the work good enough and true enough to do Hemingway justice.
What a brilliant adaptation of this allegorical tale, and what a daring and daunting task to portray such a celebrated story. Following its 1952 debut in Life Magazine (where over five million copies of the magazine sold out in two days), the novella became a Book-of-the Month selection, and, later, received the Pulitzer Prize. It was specifically cited when Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, and this timeless piece with its universal themes has since become an international classic.
Now Santiago’s famous battle to catch and bring home a giant marlin, after 84 fruitless days fishing off the Cuban coast, comes to life on a Florida stage. Interplays weave between the old-timer, the young lad he mentors and another man — a small character from the book in an expanded role — who becomes many things: a musician reinforcing the rhythms of the speeches, the focus of specific memories, and the echo of a narrator, alternating with the young lad.
The boy himself transcends his role in the original text moving in and out of the old man’s hallucinating memories as he struggles to catch the fish. In one brilliant moment, he becomes both an imaginary ally helping Santiago pull on the line and the fish itself, struggling against the old man’s strength. The fish, forever present and forever unseen takes on the qualities of a Moby Dick – a love/ hate object for the old fisherman.
Act I delineates the epic struggle between man and fish as Santiago, sitting in his small boat, center stage, pulls on the imaginary line and wraps it around himself, all the time talking aloud to the fish, to himself, to God.
The actual catch is left to the imagination and in Act II, we are beyond it, safe with the old man in his beach shanty as he hallucinates and relives both that moment, and the tragic aftermath of shark attacks on his “treasure.” The effect is far more effective and moving than the attempt to show it “all” in the 1958 Spencer Tracy film version.
David Pendleton is perfect in the Santiago role portraying a wiry old salt — who is nearly as obsessed with baseball as with fishing — as both strong and fragile, carrying him from moments of despair to the heights of triumph in his three-day saga with his nemesis. Ishmael Cruz Cordova as the boy, Manolin, captures all the hero worship and compassion of an adolescent moving into manhood. Leajato Amara Robinson as Cienfuegos, makes a unique contribution to the story by combining music with narrative to reinforce the action. He is the only one in this cast of three who appeared in debut of this work a year ago at its world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn.
This Florida production is only the second time the play has been mounted. Hopefully, it will not be the last. Watch for it, Chicagoans!
At the Count de Hoernle Theatre, 7901 Federal Hwy. Boca Raton, Fl., 33487, 561-241-7432, tickets, $34-55 (Students $10 half an hour before the performance), runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 m, running time is 85 minutes with a 12-minute intermission through March 28.