In 1955, Orson Welles' obsession with the extraordinary resulted in this fascinating play, starring himself as a 19th-century actor-producer who puts aside a production of King Lear to assay his adaptation of Melville's masterwork. Gathering his actors who have learned their parts by rote, he asks them to rehearse by improvising staging, using anything at hand to represent the whale ship Pequod on its dangerous mission to catch the great white whale. Director Aliah Whitmore's vision, beautifully realized by production designer Jacob Whitmore and lighting designer Grant Dunn, creates a vivid visual impression of 1860 artists. A fine cast, most notable James Whitmore Jr. as the pertinacious whale hunter Captain Ahab and Dustin Seavey as the gentle narrator/sailor Ishmael, breathe humanity into Melville's strenuous prose. The otherwise extraordinary production's only flaw is that the performers too easily fulfill the difficult task of physical improvisation, denying the illusion that this is the first time this play is being given life. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Mid-City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 939-9220.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Aug. 4. Continues through Aug. 28, 2011

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