Photo credit: Kerrin Serna
Written by Patrick Chavis
The Whale will have a full cinematic release in movie theaters in early December 2022. It has already accrued early accolades on the film festival circuit with standing ovations for Brendan Fraser, who plays the lead character. The movie, mainly known by the theatre community, is based on the play produced in the early 2000s and garnered some prestigious theatrical awards. The Costa Mesa Playhouse puts on a whale-sized, powerhouse production of this powerful, dark, and crudely honest story about family, regret, and life.
The Whale is about Charlie (Peter Hilton), a gay, obese six hundred-pound college professor who teaches English classes on his couch somewhere in northern Idaho. Before his inevitable demise, Charlie tries to get to know his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sophia White).
This play is an excellent example of the story’s themes and structure working so well together. The play is set in the same space for the duration of the entire show, but it’s enthralling and engaging throughout the performance. This show had me tearing up. I know it’s because of the play and the performances since, by the end of the show, I did feel a better and closer understanding of these people I had never met before.
Very few living room sets look like actual living rooms you could live in. Michael Serna’s set designs and construction on this production are phenomenal. You could step on the stage and live on that set. There’s a kitchen blocked off in this production. I could easily imagine someone cooking pancakes back there.
What stood out was how well the characters interacted with each other onstage. The direction in this play is excellent. The lighting and projections to tell the time of day create seamless transitions. The actors left space between a lot of the dialogue to let moments breathe a little and provide more tension. Their physical responses to each other spoke volumes.
What Peter Hilton has done here is why I love going to the theatre. His commitment to this character and the vibe is as good as you’ll get from a stage performance. I don’t care if it’s on Broadway or a community theatre somewhere in California. Hilton’s performance as Charlie is not to be missed.
Sophia White’s performance as the troubled teenager Ellie does a fantastic job of expressing teenage angst and finding the humanity in her character.
The other younger actor in this with impressive comedy chops is Jack Whitaker, who plays Elder Thomas, a Mormon missionary who wants to try and help Charlie with religion. He pulls off many comedic moments with his honest, dry delivery. The comedy doesn’t feel forced. It just is.
The show is only running for one more week, and it’s worth every penny of admission.
September 2 – 25,2022
Exceptional Show! OCR Recommended!
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