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The Whale

a Play
by Samuel D. Hunter

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4725

SHOWING : May 16, 2015 - June 14, 2015



At six hundred pounds, Charlie has hidden himself away in his small apartment. Isolated and hungering for redemption, he desperately tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter before it’s too late. As he eats his way into oblivion, his life intersects with a lonely nurse and a mysterious young Mormon missionary, all of whom seek grace and human connection – and discover that beauty and kindness come in unexpected forms. Marking Artistic Director Freddie Ashley’s return to the stage after a four-year absence, Actor’s Express will close the season with what is certain to be the most talked-about theatrical event of the spring.

Director Heidi Cline
Charlie Freddie Ashley
Elder Thomas Kyle Brumley
Ellie Stephanie Friedman
Mary Agnes Lucinda Harty
Liz Tiffany Porter
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Grunts and Groans and Wheezes and Moans
by playgoer
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Samuel D. Hunter’s "The Whale" tells the story of a man who makes his living instructing students on how to rewrite essays for clarity. He becomes frustrated when the rewrites take the life out of the students’ initial work. The play itself seems to suffer from the same problem: it’s neatly structured, highly allegorical, and returns to the same source material time and again, but it lacks a certain spark.

The play is made up of a number of relatively short scenes, and the production, directed by Heidi Cline McKerley, underlines the briefness of the scenes by separating them with lugubrious, slow-moving music by sound designer Dan Bauman, accompanied by a background lighting design by Andre C. Allen that perhaps is meant to approximate the amorphous poster design of the show, but ends up looking like a pretentious, failed effort. These extended scene changes slow down the action of the show, so it seems to move at a glacial pace.

Philip Male’s scenic design creates the living room of a small apartment, with a view to the kitchen through a cut-out up center. An outside door up left and a bedroom/bathroom door up right are used for entrances and exits. Usage stains around the outside door and on the sofa center are a very nice touch. Kristen Hunsicker’s props give the feel of a cluttered, messy apartment whose clutter is on the verge of being under control (or on the verge of spiraling out of control). Deyah Brenner’s costumes provide a distinct, appropriate look for each character, with the fat suit for Charlie (Freddie Ashley) being the obvious standout.

The show’s professional look is accompanied by professional acting and direction. The cast is uniformly excellent. Kyle Brumley gives a very nice performance as Elder Thomas, a Mormon missionary with a mission of his own. Agnes Lucinda Harty plays a bitter ex-wife with power, and Stephanie Friedman plays her world-hating daughter with great comic timing and delivery. Tiffany Porter, while projecting a little louder than anyone else in the cast, does a fine job as a no-nonsense nurse with a special tie to Charlie. Freddie Ashley, as Charlie, fully inhabits his role, letting his breathing become increasingly labored as the action proceeds and making the physical limitations of his character come to agonizing life.

The selfless, apologetic, affirming qualities of Charlie antagonize nearly all the characters in the play, and they can be a bit distancing for an audience too. Here is a man who refuses to seek medical assistance for his morbid obesity, choosing near-certain death. The reverse symmetry to the self-starving death of his male lover is a bit too schematic, as are many elements in the script. It wants to be bigger than life and lifelike at the same time, and falls into some amorphous middle ground where it’s not satisfyingly either. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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