THE WHALE is theatre at its best at MTC.

The Whale: Drama by Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Jasson Minadakis. Marin Theatre Company (MTC), 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 415-388-5208 or www.marintheatre.org. October 2-26, 2014.

THE WHALE is theatre at its best at MTC. Rating: ★★★★★

Marin Theatre Company’s New Play Program has become the Bay Area blue-chip showcase for new American plays. They have again earned that honor with the West Coast premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s stunning drama The Whale, which won the 2011 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize. It has earned honors in its previous outings at the Denver Center Theatre, Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory Theatre and Chicago’s Victory Garden Theatre. MTC’s production is riveting and gut wrenching and will keep you transfixed for 110 minutes without an intermission.

Significant plays dealing with medical disabilities include Joe Egg (cerebral spasticity), Angels in America and The Normal Heart (HIV-AIDS), Wit (Cancer), The Elephant Man (Neurofibromatosis) and most recently the Tony wining musical Next to Normal (bipolar disorder). Hunter explores morbid obesity creating Charlie (Nicholas Pelczar) a man with a beautiful sensitive interior and a 600 pound body. Hunter not only focuses on Charlie’s pain but the pain that cripples those around him. Every character in the play, and they do many times over, state “I’m sorry” and they have good reason to be sorry.

The protagonist Charlie has been eating junk food for years and is now in a horrible physical state with heart disease and respiratory problems. Hunter does not dwell on the physical disabilities caused by obesity but on the chain of events that led this particular individual getting to his present state. In short scenes interspersed with blackouts and the sound of wind and ocean waves filling the void, he bookends the play with one of the characters reading aloud an essay on “Moby Dick” and the relationship of whalers to the whales. Hunter’s interest in formal religion is well documented as noted in his play A Bright New Boise produced at the Aurora Theatre last year. This would partially explain his use of Jonah and the whale as symbolic for a stunning explanation of his unexpected denouement.

The play takes place in Northern Idaho where Hunter was raised and is pertinent to reactions of the inhabitants of small towns with strong Mormon attachments. Without giving away the storyline there are cogent data to be regarded. Charlie is a writing instructor who communicates with his students via computers. He is practically immobile and spends most of his time on a broken down sofa supported by cement blocks. Encased in his fat suit Pelczar wheezes and grunts as he uses his walker to move from the sofa to the bathroom.

Charlie is gay and we learn has had a love affair that ended disastrously with one of his students 14 years ago. He was married at that time to Mary (Michelle Maxson) and had a two year old daughter Ellie. He has not seen or heard from either of them in the intervening years. Liz (Liz Sklar) a local nurse has been looking after Charlie since he became incapacitated and confined to the house and couch. Into this strange milieu stumbles young Elder Thomas (Adam Magill) ostensible doing his required Mormon mission. As Charlie tries to reconnect with his now 17 year old rebellious daughter Ellie(Christina Oeschger) who frequently tells him “You’re disgusting” the interactions become more intense but gradual fit together like a like complicate jig-saw puzzle only to end explosively.

                                      Charlie (Nicholas Pelczar) tries to comfort his nurse and best friend Liz (Liz Sklar)

Nicholas Pelczar gives a prizewinning performance. Liz Sklar  as Liz displays strong acting conveying palpable concern burdened down by anger. Christina Oeschger as Ellie projects the qualities that even disgust her mother. Michelle Maxson’s short time on stage as Ellie’s mother gives depth to her relationship with Charlie and Ellie.

This is a do not miss production. Running time 110 minutes without intermission.

CAST: Adam Magill,  Michelle Maxson, Cristina Oeschger, Nicholas Pelczar, Liz Sklar.

ARTISTIC STAFF: Directed by Jasson Minadakis; Scenic Designer, Michael Locher; Lighting Designer, Kurt Landisman; Costume Designer, Christine Crook; Sound Designer,Chris Houston; Breath and Physicality Coach,Vicki Shaghoian; Stage Manager, Sean McStravick;Properties Artisan, Kirsten Royston; Casting Director, Meg Pearson;Dramaturg,Margot Melon; Assistant Directors, Robby Lutfy, Richard A. Mosqueda; Fat Suit; Construction, CMC & Design

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com

Charlie (Nicholas Pelczar) tries to comfort his nurse and best friend Liz (Liz Sklar) in the Bay Area premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale at Marin Theatre Company for a limited engagement through October 26.