Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Whale **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.) 
I wish I could join the chorus of praise for Obie winner Samuel D. Hunter's strange new play at Playwrights Horizons, but I found it thoroughly muddled and disagreeable. In it we meet Charlie (the superb Shuler Hensley), a 600+ lb. man who is eating himself to death in his apartment in northern Idaho. During the course of a week, he is visited by his nurse and devoted friend Liz (Cassie Beck); his ex-wife Mary (Tasha Lawrence); his estranged 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Reyna de Courcy), who has to be the most obnoxious character to grace a New York stage this year; and a mysterious Mormon missionary, Elder Thomas (Cory Michael Smith). We learn that Charlie left his wife and infant daughter for a male lover many years ago.  Charlie blames the Mormon Church for his lover's subsequent death and has been eating nonstop ever since. He supports himself by teaching an online expository writing course for the local university. We hear occasional snippets of his exchanges with students. Periodically there are references to Moby Dick and the story of Jonah. Between scenes we hear the symbolic pounding of the ocean. Unfortunately there are plot developments that make absolutely no sense, e.g. Liz's applying lipstick to Charlie. What first impressed me as fascinating soon became tedious and I found myself looking at my watch several times. The uncomfortable seats in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater did not help either. Mimi Lien's set and Jessica Pabst's costumes are admirable. Davis McCallum's direction is assured. Running time: I hour, 50 minutes without intermission.

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