Herman Melville Sails into Leominster Public Library
LEOMINSTER -- Herman Melville was brought to life before a packed audience at the Public Library on Sunday.
Stephen Collins, acclaimed actor and library favorite, brought the famous 19th-century writer to life in the one-man play, “Sailing Towards My Father,” by Carl A. Rossi.
The set was scarce, made of two small side tables, a bench and a small rock on the floor but Collins used all of the space to portray the life of Melville.
The play focused on Melville’s writing but also on his tempestuous relationship with his family, his journey at sea on a whaling boat that inspired many of his works, his constant questioning of God, his periods of depression and his relationship with novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne.
“I believe he was looking for a father-figure in Hawthorne,” said Collins.
Melville built his house, Arrowhead, six miles away from Hawthorne in the Berkshires. They were close friends before Hawthorne pushed Melville away later in life.
Melville also received harsh criticism of his novels throughout his life, especially of the novel he is now most known for, “Moby Dick.”
Collins as Melville exclaimed how there were, “damning reviews” of “Moby Dick” when it was published and how it, “was supposed to become my masterpiece!”
After “Moby Dick,” Melville moved back to Manhattan with his family. He continued to write but published privately and was “content to be forgotten.”
It wasn’t until years after Melville’s death in 1891 that his manuscript of “Billy Budd” was discovered and published in 1922 to raving reviews that his work was rediscovered.
It took Collins about six months to memorize the hour-long play. He also visited Melville’s home of Arrowhead in Pittsfield while he was preparing for the role.
He said the most interesting parts for him to portray were the great highs and lows of Melville’s life.
Collins will be performing the play next July at the Nantucket Whaling Museum to celebrate Melville’s 200th birthday.