“The Whale” – Stray Cat Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ February 24, 2014


Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
Tempe, AZ

Damon Dering delivers a phenomenal acting performance in the central role of Stray Cat Theatre’s fascinating “The Whale,” a mesmerizing script about morbid obesity and the need for love.

That’s a terse description of Samuel D. Hunter’s play.  There’s much more below the play’s surface when you connect the plot dots together and superimpose the intriguingly complicated central character, Charlie, and what his corpulence tells us about his shattered life and his brushes with love.  He weighs more than 600 pounds and his portliness puts him on a fast track to death.  While Charlie’s expected death ends the play dramatically and without surprise, the reasons behind Charlie’s death make him an appealing character who will grip audiences as he pulls them into his devastatingly sad predicament and you realize how his wrong decisions have impacted his life.

Set in a small Idaho community, Charlie sits in his messy apartment eating and being miserable.  It turns out he was affected by the death of his partner Alan.  Now he deals with Alan’s sister, Liz, a nurse who cares for Charlie because he refuses to see a doctor.  Charlie hopes to improve his relationship with his estranged daughter, Ellie, and his bombastic ex-wife, Mary.  Into his already confused environment comes Elder Thomas, a Mormon missionary, with his own eccentric past.

The wacky influences playing on Charlie are endless.  Giving more details will spoil the story but know that you won’t always expect what occurs.  Charlie’s a fascinating character but everyone around him has similar peculiar things happen to them.  The unusual thing about “The Whale” is that the plot sounds somber but the play rings with comic delight as playwright Hunter drops in amusing humor throughout the morose discussion.

Such a bizarre play could be laughable in a less than perfect production but Ron May’s marvelous staging couldn’t be better nor could the characters be more vibrantly crafted.  Dering is masterful in his huge fat suit as he ambles about the stage, feeling sorry for himself as he struggles through constant emotional turmoil as he deals with his unreal life.  Anne Marie Falvey’s concerned Liz is perfect as she is angered that Charlie is doing this tragic weight thing to himself.  Michelle Chin is all immaturity as Charlie’s mouthy daughter, Ellie.  Johanna Carlisle delivers Charlie’s ex-wife, Mary, with venom as she bashes Charlie.  Austin Kiehle is artful as Elder Thomas, a seemingly normal missionary who’s checked past is revealed by the actor with delicious gusto.

“The Whale” is an insightful character study of weird people but it provides a better understanding of the range of people.  “The Whale” continues through Saturday, March 1.  For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-227-1766 or order tickets online at www.straycattheatre.org

Grade: A