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The Whale

Tom Alan Robbins as Charlie
Tom Alan Robbins as Charlie
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Down to earth, with a relatively unique set of family dysfunctions, yet rich in metaphorical overlays, the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale fully delivers on its potential shown in last year's reading at the Denver Center Theatre Company's New Play Summit.

Leveraging Herman Melville's Moby Dick, the Torah's story of Jonah and the whale, and a whale of a man, Hunter brings rarified dignity and archetypal significance to everyday events. Charlie (Tom Alan Robbins) discovers he is gay after he is married and a father. His lover, Alan, the son of a Mormon bishop, wasted away and died after his father compared his choices to Jonah's crises of faith.

Cory Michael Smith as Elder Thomas and Nicole Rodenburg as Ellie
Cory Michael Smith as Elder Thomas
and Nicole Rodenburg as Ellie
Photo: Terry Shapiro
In his grief and despair over Alan's death, Charlie stops going out and eats himself into oblivion, burying himself in his work as an online English teacher while trying to find ways to reconnect with his high school-aged daughter, Ellie, that he hasn't seen since she was a toddler.

Fitted in costume designer Kevin Copenhaver's and draper Louise Powers-Prues' 100-pound body suit and apparel, Robbins does fine work detaililng the physical and emotional struggles of a morbidly obese species, more akin to the largest seafaring mammals, with their mournful songs, than to the furtive Homo sapiens that come knocking at his door.

Tom Alan Robbins as Charlie and Angela Reed as Liz
Tom Alan Robbins as Charlie
and Angela Reed as Liz
Photo: Terry Shapiro
His nurse, Liz (Angela Reed), does everything in her power to convince Charlie to get a grip on his fatalistic despondency. At first, without knowing why Liz is hell-bent on shaking Charlie from his doldrums, we are nevertheless wholly absorbed by Reed's intensity, heartfelt concern, and protective instincts.

When Charlie is visited by Elder Thomas (Cory Michael Smith), a roving Morman missionary, Liz goes ballistic. Smith maintains a delicate balance between Elder Thomas' oblivousness to the hyperbole of the doctrines he preaches and the desperate tenaciousness of a believer whose convictions are wavering.

Tom Alan Robbins as Charlie and Tasha Lawrence as Mary
Tom Alan Robbins as Charlie
and Angela Reed as Liz
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Nicole Rodenburg inhabits Ellie's teenage angst and anger over her dysfunctional inheritance with just the right degree of desperation to support the powerful conclusion. Tasha Lawrence's infusion of spousal resentment and endearing reminiscence completes the family portrait.

Like the behemoths that brought moral questions to bear for Ahab and Jonah, so too does Charlie for all whom he touches.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, directed by Hal Brooks, runs thorugh February 25th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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