The 5 & Dime Theatre Company opened Samuel D.Hunter’s overwhelming play “The Whale” on November 13, 2015. Performances are staged at Worsham Hall at the Church of the Good Shepherd, located in Jacksonville, Florida in the Riverside neighborhood, and will continue through November 22, 2015. Tickets are available on-line or at the door; for additional information and reservations visit www.the5anddime.org.
“The Whale” has a provocative script with powerful and creative performances in all five roles. The play is set in present time in a seedy low-rent apartment occupied by Charlie, an intelligent guy with a master’s degree who teaches writing to students over the internet. Charlie never leaves home; he wouldn’t even be able to leave home without substantial assistance. He weighs six hundred pounds, and has end-stage congestive heart failure and a dangerously high blood pressure. His problems with food began some years ago when his gay partner Allen, a devoted Mormon, died shortly after being rejected by the church. He lives for three things: his work, his eating, and his desire to reconnect with his daughter, a teenager, whom he last saw when she was two years old. And he spends almost all of his time on the couch.
Liz, a long time friend of Charlie’s, is a nurse at a local hospital who visits to bring food and look after him; they sometimes watch television together. Alix Bond, in a stellar performance, proves to be the only close to normal person in this play. Ms. Bond is probably the busiest actress in this area, having recently finished roles in “St. George and the Dragon” and “The Rocky Horror Show.” Drama, musicals or comedy, this gal can do it all.
Charlie has a surprise visitor when a Mormon missionary knocks on his door. Elder Thomas is brilliantly played by Preston Pittman, a Douglas Anderson School of the Arts student. On his first visit, he portrays a picture-perfect clean cut nineteen-year-old, but as the story progresses, we learn that he has a secret past.
Ellie, Charlie’s daughter, also comes to visit. The role of the teenager is portrayed by another Douglas Anderson student, Olivia Rose Bacon in a tour de force performance. Charlie is thrilled to find that Ellie, although quite angry, is smart and attractive, and he accepts her less than charming behavior without protest. She is failing as a high school senior, smokes dope, uses profanity constantly, and runs a hate blog on the internet. Her visits are harshly conditional; they will continue only if he agrees to write her English class essays and give her money.
Charlie’s embittered ex-wife makes an appearance in Act II. Mary is played convincingly by Staci Cobb Grant, who is returning to the stage after a couple of years off to raise a family with husband Brian. Mary, although tough, a smoker, and a heavy drinker, is a surprisingly sympathetic character.
Charlie is played by veteran actor Bill Ratliff, giving one of his most compelling performances ever, as an actor who spends the entire two hours mostly on his back wearing a fat suit (which is the original suit worn in the New York production at Playwrights Horizon). Ratliff gives a never-to-be-forgotten star turn that is technically stunning yet humanly touching, and adds another fabulous role to his impressive thirty years of theatre in North Florida.
Production Team: Abigail Saenz (Stage Manager), Lee Hamby (Production Manager), Tom Fallon (Set Designer), Jim Wiggins (Lighting Designer), Abigail Saenz (Sound Designer), Lee Hamby (Costume Designer), and Pat Gorman & Maggie O’Connor (Props).
The play has some humor but is also a powerful drama with a climax that tears at the heart. It is a play with performances that you don’t want to miss.