A New Take on a Prize-Winning 1952 Hemingway Classic
In his introduction to "The Old Man and the Sea," which is onstage through March 28 in Boca Raton, director Clive Cholerton likens Caldwell Theatre's struggle for survival to that of Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman who hooks a giant marlin to large to land in his boat.
One hopes Caldwell does better in its battle than Santiago, and more like his creator.
For author Ernest Hemingway, "Old Man and the Sea" was a personal victory after a ten-year creative dry spell, and a vindication of his work from critics, who lambasted him for his last novel, "Across the River and Into the Trees."
The short novella "Old Man" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in 1954, restoring Hemingway's reputation.
Caldwell's production is a new adaptation by Eric Ting and Craig Siebels, with music by John Gromanda.
"Old Man" is performed almost like an extended dance. Guitarist-singer Leajato Amara Robinson prowls the stage, striking poses and dashing off bits of Flamenco-Cuban-style music.
Santiago (David Pendleton) is in a dance too; a dance of death with a fish larger than any he has ever seen.
The third member of the dance is Manolin (Ismael Cruz Cordova), Santiago's young apprentice.
Manolin's parents have come to fell Santiago is cursed after spending 84 days at sea without a single catch.
So Santiago is alone on the 85th day, and he ventures out to sea farther than he has ever been before.
There are all sorts of allegorical theories regarding "Old Man." Biblical references are many, as are literary references.
This streamlined version strips the dialogue to poetic snatches uttered by the old man and his admiring, baseball-loving apprentice, who idolizes New York yankee great Joe DiMaggio.
The audience must use its imagination to picture Santiago's opponents in battle: first the great marlin, then the maurading sharks that savage his prize.
In the book and in the movie the man vs marlin and man vs shark massacre are spelled out in great detail.
I have indelible memories of the 1958 film, which earned Spencer Tracy a Best Actor Academy Award for his Santiago.
David Pendleton faces a tremendous challenge taking on such a well-known role, but I think he acquits himself beautifully, with mime gestures and ballet-like moves.
Both Ismael Cordova and Laejato Robinson are magnetic stage presences, and they harmonize perfectly both in their movement and in vocal duets.
This is highly stylized theater. It is not an action-thriller. It is more a meditation on the meaning of life and the necessity of struggle, even if it seems futile.
Hemingway was an "old man" of 53 when this story was published. No doubt the success of the book bought him a few more years.
Let us hope Caldwell prevails against the great marlin of debt and the sharks that circle in bankers' suits.
Tickets are $34 and $55. call 561-241-7432 or 877-245-7432 or visit www.caldwelltheatre.com.