HATTheatre’s ‘The Whale’ explores food addiction and salvation
The Whale, written by Samuel D. Hunter, is not a play about a 600 pound man. It’s a play about a man who happens to weigh 600 pounds. The distinction, though seemingly minimal, is everything this play is about.
The show opens this weekend at the HATTheatre the West End.
Charlie, the main character, is morbidly obese, and is going to die from it. He hides away in his apartment in Northern Idaho, teaching expository writing through the internet and eating himself to death.
“The foodaddiction that he has has completely isolated himself from the world,” said actor Michael Hawke, who is portraying Charlie.
Hawke developed a relationship with his character by looking at Charlie’s eating as anaddiction, being used to help him cope. Hawke suffered from a substance abuse problem in his past.
“I found a way out 27 years ago,” Hawke said. “It’s all kind of the same. He was killing himself and making his world so small because of hisaddiction.”
Charlie’s eating, and hisaddiction to it, is his coping response: His lover, Alan, was a Mormon torn between Charlie and his faith. This production is part of the overarching Acts of Faith Festival, presented by the Second Presbyterian Church among other sponsors. The festival is supposed to explore and examine how faith affects people and their decisions.
“Particularly, the religion we examine in this piece is the Mormon faith,” said director Julie Fulcher-Davis.“When we look at the ramifications of limited beliefs and beliefs that particularly would limit a person’s capacity to love in the name of religion then it begs the question, ‘What is our responsibility as a society when looking at religion?’”
It’s a traditional story, one where a man is seeking reconnection and reconciliation. What sets the play apart is its vibrant and realistic characters.
“I’ve really tried to look at this piece realistically and enrich these characters realistically,” said Fulcher-Davis. “These are not caricatures, these are real epode with the coexisting values of human behaviors.”
The play is marked for 13 and up, Fulcher-Davis agrees that the audience should probably be high schoolers and up, but parental guidance should be extended.
“I guess for every parent if your 13-year-old is capable of handling it, then its a powerful piece to share,” said Fulcher-Davis. “It will provoke much talk and much thought.”
Hawke, who is not obese, studied and interviewed people who suffer from morbid obesity to help mold his understanding of the character.
“Different people have different reaction to this kind of weight and this guy is at the end of his life. It’s a little different for him because its literally killing him,” said Hawke.
This production will use a fat suit to make Hawke look heavier. Hawke said that he has little problem acting through the costuming.
“When somebody is that heavy the fat gathers in all these weird places,” said Hawke. “I just really get into the character and it goes from there. The hard part is the physicality of it, not the emotional part.”
Hunter, the author of the play, hoped to bridge the distance between Charlie and the audience throughout the play. Hawke agreed that though Charlie may look like us, his struggles are similar.
“He’s made such big mistakes, he’s trying to set them right and I think that the audience grows to see that thought the course of the play,” said Hawke. “Whatever way we’re all broken, people grow to be sympathetic and see why he is the way he is and how they’re like him.”
The Whale opens tonight and runs through March 8 at HATTheatre. Tickets can be purchased by making a reservation at the box office at 343-6364. All payment is at the door.
Ben Weiner is a contributor for GayRVA and RVAMag. 'Nuff said.
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