“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” at Word for Word

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” at Word for Word

Carol Benet

One of the most famous poems, taught in English classes from high school on is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.  It appeared first in the poet’s book of poetry with William Wordsworth, “Lyrical Ballads” in its first published version in 1798.  Who can forget the lines, “Water water, everywhere,/ Nor any drop to drink.”?

It is a timeless tale and is especially relevant today whose press preview took place on September 20, 2019, the day that millions of high school students all over the world participated in a march for Global Climate Strike.  The poem is a story that an old man told a wedding guest about his killing an albatross on a ship and the consequences of this act against nature.

The Ancient Mariner is played by a long grey-haired Charles Shaw Robinson.  He tells his story to the wedding guest and a narrator recounts the entire adventure.  The poem and the play starts with a wedding.  The guest (Lucas Brandt) listens “like a three years’ child” to the Mariner tell his tale of killing the albatross when it followed the ship to the icy south sea. In lore,  when an albatross followed a ship it was considered good luck.  The ship encountered a raging storm and is then becalmed because the old man killed the albatross, a most dastardly crime against nature.  

Word for Word’s interpretation, as it does in all of its productions, is a recitation of the text verbatim.  Their technique  is famous and they have produced hundreds of shows, mainly from short stories, that stay true to the literature.  Here  they are most creative in their dramatization of the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

The play starts with the wedding scene where one of the guests listens to an old Mariner tell a story, all in verse,  The crew enacts the ship taking off on the trip, the storm, the becalming and then the wind taking them onwards.  Oliver DiCicco and Colm McNally’s set is brilliant in its recreation of a platform that  outlines a ship’s deck.  On it the sailors simulate the motion of the ship (Nol Simonse’s choreography).  Ray Oppenheimer’s lighting design, Teddy Hulsker’s projections and Matt Stines’ sound  believably  recreate the fierce storm. 

Producing a dramatization of a long poem is challenging, Not everyone appreciates poetry but this is not the case for the loyal audience at Word for Word.  But here it is especially difficult because the Mariner recites the poem through his long white beard and his words are often muffled.  But directors Delia MacDougall ad Jim Cave enliven the story with the men’s actions, especially when they are near death  parched for lack of water and then when it starts to rain and the winds pick up.  The shipmates Lucas Brandt again, Nathaniel Andalis, Robert Ernst, Leontyne Mibele-Mbong and Earl Paus join Robinson in creating an exciting enactment of Coleridge’s immortal verse. The Polar Spirit (Randall Wong) and The Sun (Darryl V. Jones) provide the continuity to the story, Nikki Anderson-Joy’s costumes are fitting for the period and as well as the imaginative characters such as The Sun.  

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” at Word for Word is performed at Z Space, 45j0 Florida plays through October 12, 2019.  www.zspace.org.  

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →