There’s a race against time in Eckert’s play, and this race is interwoven with complex symbols about the 19th century and current culture.
Eckert said he compares what whales represented in the 19th century to what memory represents, or means, now.
“It’s this mythic creature on the one hand because they’ve never seen a live whale, but at the same time they are using soaps made out of whales,” he said.
“So the whale is both mythic and quotidian, and memory is very much like that. We use it everyday, yet we don’t understand it.”
Eckert has experience with the pains of memory loss.
Both of his parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and his mother still calls him asking if he knows his father has died, he said, even though they both attended the funeral.
“When you stop being able to remember, you start to realize how huge that world of your memory is,” Eckert said.
“You were made meaningful by these stories you retain.”
Nathan retains his thoughts on a tape recorder that he wears around his neck. The recorder and his imagination are the only things that can help him finish the opera.
Nora Cole portrays Nathan’s muse, who lives in his mind.
“(The muse) wants to have a life of her own, and she wants to become real,” Cole said. “But she realizes that when he dies, she dies.”
Once the muse accepts her reality, she helps Nathan until his memory goes.
“This character allowed me to tap every resource I had vocally and in movement,” Cole said. “It’s a challenging piece, so my preparation is pretty intense.”
Cole and Eckert have been performing the show for 12 years. In that time, the show has won an OBIE Award, or Off-Broadway Theater Award.
Jeffrey Meanza, associate artistic director for PlayMakers, said the company wanted the show because of its metatheatrical quality.
“(The audience) understands that this is his last great effort as a composer,” Meanza said. “There’s something really human about that.”
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