Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Outstanding Acting Makes
Charlie is a placid but heartbroken, enormous man who sits on a couch in northern Idaho. He is powerlessly marooned in his own body, waging a valiant and poignant struggle to give his life meaning as he approaches death. He is also gorging himself to death after losing his male lover who was an ex-Mormon. At present, Charlie spends his days teaching online English classes.
Charlie sees no one but his nurse and his only friend Liz (Liz Sklar); she is also the sister of his dead lover. Charlie is the target of apparently more sociable attention from a 19-year-old Mormon missionary named Elder Thomas (Adam Magill). Charlie had been married for a time to Mary (Michelle Maxson), with whom he had a daughter, Ellie (Cristina Oeschger). He has not seen Ellie since she was a small child. Charlie decides to reach out, after years of separation, to his troubled teenaged daughter. She is full of hostility toward him and the rest of the world.
Nicholas Pelczar, in an effective fat suit, is brilliant as Charlie. Throughout the almost two hour drama, he is practically immobile with strenuous breath and red-faced straining just to stand upright; his performance seems dreadfully real at times. Frequent coughs and panting pauses are interspersed within his successive performance. It is a dazzling tour de force of acting.
Liz Sklar excels as Liz, the hard-bitten and jealously protective friend and nurse. She skillfully balances loving kindness with sharp-tongued frustration. Seventeen-year-old Cristina Oeschger is riveting as the defiant Ellie. She is fortified with a teenager's ability to lazily deliver a well-aimed insult as though it were an off-the-cuff line. Adam Magill gives a winning performance as the enthusiastic young Mormon missionary, and Michelle Maxson as Charlie's wife delivers an amazingly detail, multifaceted performance of diverse feelings.
Michael Locher has devised an overcrowded, disorderly, grubby living room set that reflects the living conditions of Charlie. Costume designer Christine Crook has provided a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants that appear to have not been changed for quite a while, over an incredible fat suit which transforms the slim actor.
The Whale plays through October 26, 2014, at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. Coming next is the the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete History of Comedy opening November 28th and running through December 21.