“Old Man and the Sea” tests Playhouse as innovative space

Directors conducted coast-to-coast search to cast actor for lead role


Photo by Robert Berger

Stacks of Hemingway novels, collections and criticism sit in the basement of the University Center. Hemingway was one of the most celebrated writers in American literature, winning a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize before his 1961 suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.

Written By Carley Bonk, Editor-Elect

The Pittsburgh Playhouse will be the location of the worldwide stage adaptation premiere of Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, “The Old Man and the Sea” this February.

The show, adapted for the stage by A.E. Hotchner, one of the late Hemingway’s closest friends, will test the Playhouse space for production innovation, according to Ronald Lindblom, the university’s artistic director.

“I wanted to use this opportunity as a way to show how an artistic laboratory can work and that means everybody’s involved in this,” Lindblom said. “[The Playhouse] is designed to do for the arts nationally, what the Robotics Institute does to the scientific community nationally.”

The multimedia production will incorporate film, projections and an original score by Simon Cummings, member of local rock band, Cello Fury. The show will kick off a partnership with RWS Productions, run by Point Park alum Ryan Stana.

Joe Christopher, VP of Commercial Theatre Ventures at RWS, said the story is essentially an allegory of Hemingway’s life, and what makes this play unique is that Hemingway is actually one of the three characters.

“What you see in the play is almost parallel to Santiago struggling with trying to catch this marlin and everything that he goes through,”  Christopher said, describing the plot of the novella. “You’re also seeing Hemingway who’s actually writing it in real time, and how they inform each othof their struggles, in terms of who’s informing who as the [novella] is written.”

“The Old Man and the Sea” was a novella published in 1952. Hemingway captured the struggle of an elderly Cuban fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in 85 days.

He embarks on a three day journey without his young companion, Manolin, whose family has deemed Santiago unlucky. The allegory features the strife of man against the natural world.

“It’s basically a story that says a man could be destroyed, but he can’t be defeated,” Lindblom said. “It’s about being a little tiny speck out there, that big ocean and that indomitable spirit of us knowing our own mortality, but we’re going down swinging.”

President Paul Hennigan said the administration is honored to host the worldwide premiere of the classic.

“It’s the first time it’s ever been done in the theater. It’s going to be in the Highmark Theater which is incredible,” Hennigan said. “I’m really excited to see what they’re able to do from a multimedia perspective with this show coming up in February. The new Playhouse is clearly demonstrating to all of us the opportunity, the potential, the creativity, the flexibility – it’s just an amazing space.”

Lindblom confirmed that four seniors have been chosen as filmmakers for the production – Tyler Morris, Isabelle Opsitos, Drew Praskovich and Raul Toledo.

“They’re really talented seniors and I couldn’t choose so I hired them all,” Lindblom said. “All four are working with a video designer creating the video that’s going to be used in this in the show.”

He also said the casting is almost complete. David Cabot is a local actor casted as Ernest Hemingway and Conservatory alum Gabriel Florentino will play the young boy, Manolin. 

The production team of around 45 members are awaiting confirmation from an accomplished New York actor who is slated to play the old man.

“We’ve looked at both L.A. and New York to cast the right person that we want for this role,” Lindblom said.

“The Old Man and the Sea” will run in the Playhouse Highmark Theater from Feb. 1-17. Tickets are on sale now at the box