The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Friday, January 10, 2014

MDM18 "post-mortemising"

Friday afternoon
The eighteenth annual Moby-Dick Marathon (MDM18) was held by the New Bedford Whaling Museum on January 4-5. Because of the mid-week snowstorm, the speaker set for Friday night, librettist Gene Scheer, was re-scheduled for Saturday A.M. In the end, he couldn't get out of NYC, so "Stump the Scholars" was restored to its usual Saturday morning slot.

Saturday, 9:53 A.M. - Bob Rocha rallies the interns
I was disappointed to miss Mr. Scheer's talk. It would be interesting to hear about the decisions he was forced to make in adapting M-D to the contemporary grand-opera [see Comments] opera form. Also, as with Matt Kish's talk at MDM17, an artist's "take" on M-D can deepen one's appreciation in unexpected ways.

On the other hand, "Stump the Scholars" is not to be missed. It's an entertaining lead-in to the actual reading. "Emcee" Michael Dyer (Maritime Curator) keeps things fun, and the scholars have a very high batting average against the audience. Do you remember Stiggs and how he died? They do.

The Clams
The Cods

Team "The Clams" was Mary K. Bercaw Edwards (Univ. of Connecticut), Wyn Kelley (M.I.T.), Jennifer Baker (NYU). "The Cods" were Chris Sten (George Washington U.), Robert Wallace (Univ. of Kentucky), Tim Marr (Univ. of North Carolina). Great fun.

Tonnie & Tjitske
Then it was off to the "Lagoda room" for the main event. The reporter from WBSM radio somehow found Dutch Melvillians Tonnie & Tjitske—back for their 5th consecutive MDM.

Pia Durkin
This year's reading kicked off with the MDM's first female Ishmael, Dr. Pia Durkin, Superintendent of New Bedford Public Schools. A local woman standing next to me said that Durkin was "controversial." If you're from New Bedford, you know all about that.

Each MDM has a slightly different character. This year's seemed to be less "reverential," maybe because we were all relieved to have made it through the blizzard. Much of the early-Saturday and late-Sunday audience seemed to be there not to share a cherished book, but to observe the spectacle. Maybe not. ...But I wasn't the only one to notice that the crowd noise on Saturday afternoon was over the limit. (Those teenage interns just don't have the air of authority of the grizzled docents!)

A lot of readers were no-shows, doubtless because of the snows. Bob Rocha scoured the "sleeping balcony" in the wee hours to recruit readers. This year, repeat turns at the podium were for the asking.

Sunday, 3:48 A.M.

Joel and Havarah from KingPost Productions spent most of the marathon in the break room, explaining their just-released Moby Dick strategy card game. Nice folks, patiently answering questions they surely had heard hundreds of times before. Each card has a quote from M-D, so for the uninitiated it could be an entrée into the book; and the artwork is captivating. As in the novel, players hunt whales and confront Moby-Dick. The last player to survive his attacks can say "Call me Ishmael!" (Interestingly, Gene Scheer's libretto likewise uses "Call me Ishmael" as its final line.)

Havarah & Joel explain the game

Finally, the sun rose, the crowd swelled, and it was over for another year. Mark your calendar for MDM19: January 3, 2015.

Watch the museum website—the restored Charles W. Morgan arrives in New Bedford in June. The scholars will be back for a "Melville event."

Stowing Down & Clearing Up

P.S. -
        Where was Jennifer Nersesian of the National Historical Park? (One of my favorite readers.)
        Where was Peter Whittemore? [Best wishes to you, Peter.]
        Why did James Russell, President & CEO of the Whaling Museum, close the Epilogue with "The End" instead of "FINIS"?
        The Celtic Coffee House across from the museum is gone, replaced by Tia Maria's (BYOB), but good Guinness can be had at a new pub on Union St., where the Catwalk used to be.


  1. The local paper, SouthCoast Today, reported on 10/3/13, that Jen Nersesian accepted a new position as superintendent of the Gateway National Recreation Area. :_(
    Maybe she'll be back for a visit to an MDM someday.

  2. Nice report, 'Voort.

    However, about this:

    "the contemporary grand-opera form"

    it's just "opera," not "grand opera." "Grand opera" refers to opera meeting the conventions of the Paris Opera around the mid-19th century. Not many grand operas are still in the repertoire; Verdi's "Don Carlos" is one survivor.