Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Whale pulls at every heart string.

The Whale, written by Samuel D. Hunter, and Produced by Beth Marshall Presents will make its Central Florida Regional Premiere on March 18th. I arrived at a dress rehearsal about an hour before the run through of the show. Director, Rob Winn Anderson, wanted to revise several scenes that had kinks to be worked out. Ellie, Rachel Comeau read a book review she had written about Moby Dick. The play is book ended by her heart felt review, and it's significance only becomes clear as her relation ship with her father Charlie, Michael Wanzie comes to light. The stage set by Tom Mangeri, felt like a diorama on stilts. At key moments in the play, blue and green lights would flicker on beneath the stage making it seem like the set were floating above dock moorings.

Charlie is effectively eating himself to death. His marriage to Mary, Beth Marshall, fell apart when he fell in love with another man. Estranged from his daughter, he wants to get to know her at the end of his life. He bribes her to spend time with him, by offering to help her with her school work, and offering her what turns out to be a sizable inheritance since he never leaves his apartment. Ellie is strong willed, smart, vicious, and sharp tongued but bored by school and her classmates.  She created a blog in which she complains about everyone she knows. 

Liz, Jamie Middleton, is Charlie's health aid. She also seems scarred by life, and her morose barbed dialogue offers some of the shows biggest-laughs. Elder Thomas, Anthony Pyatt Jr. a Mormon missionary enters Charlie's apartment to give Charlie gods word. When Liz finds Thomas preaching to Charlie she rips into his beliefs. When Ellie an Thomas meet, she manages to erode his holy facade and she has him smoking weed and confessing that he isn't exactly who he claims to be. 

Ellie's harsh embittered view of the world is fueled be be parents divorce. Charlie teaches an online writing course, and his lessons to his students reflect what he wishes he could pass on to his daughter. He implores his students to stop editing and rewriting every sentence. Instead, he begs them to just write from the heart. This brings us back to the moment when he asks Ellie to read her book review. The paper had been given an F because it was a review of the wrong book. Ellie was furious at her father and hadn't bothered to read the review. She cursed her father's request to read, not because she hated him, but because she loved him and was furious at how he had let his health go. She had written the book review years before and it highlighted how the book seemed to reflect what was happening in her own life. Although she was angered by life, this paper proved that she had a heart and cared a bout everyone around her. Anyone who could write such a heartfelt review would also have the talent to share many more stories that would touch others. My eyes welled up as she read her paper. Ellie's eyes welled up as well. For the first time, Charlie rose from his chair and he struggled to cross the room to reach out the his daughter. She was amazing, beautiful and his life's greatest accomplishment. 

The show combines humor with absolutely heart wrenching sadness. It celebrates what it truly means to be alive, and the strong bond of family even when it is dysfunctional. Although dark and bitter, the show also exudes hope, despite all odds. This play was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play. It won a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play and won a Drama Desk Special Award for Significant Contribution to Theatre.

The Whale 
March 18 to April 3, 2016
Thursday 8pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm (April 2) & 8pm, Sunday 2pm
Industry Night: Monday, March 28

Winter Garden Theatre 160 W Plant St, Winter Garden, Florida
Tickets: $21 - $28

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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