Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Charlie (Robert Ellis) knows he is near death. He gasps for air and refuses to go to the emergency room. He is morbidly obese and thinks he will live only a few more days. He came to this place after his partner Allen died after a strange visit to the local Mormon Church, where the sermon was about Jonah and the whale. Distraught, Charlie simply has eaten himself to near death.
But as the fates and a good playwright would make happen, people stop by to visit with Charlie. This helps the audience reflect on Charlie's past. A parade of friends and family help us view this play as a story of relationships.
Liz (Jen Klika), a nurse, is Charlie's first visitor and his best friend. She helps him with food, trips to the bathroom, and other necessities of his simple life. Liz realizes Charlie will die soon and wants to get hospital help for him, but he insists he doesn't have insurance and doesn't have the money to pay for hospital care. Into this painful situation strolls Elder Thomas (Jon Heuse), a Mormon missionary who wants to help Charlie establish a spiritual life. Thomas also wants to take over some of the tasks Liz has done for Charlie. A bit of jealousy develops on the part of Liz. The boyish missionary has secrets; he wants to do something good and that something may be to help Charlie.
Soon, Charlie's daughter Ellie (Ireland Derry), who is 17 and a high school senior, stops by for a visit. This is the first time she's seen her father in 15 years. Her visit seems abrupt but not unmotivated. She needs help. She may well fail her classes and not graduate. She wants Charlie to write her school papers. She is a foul-mouthed, mean spirited child who would like for her father to die (but not before he writes her papers). The last act in this parade is Mary (Rose Gabriel), Charlie's ex-wife. She certainly doesn't want to rekindle the relationship. She only wants to talk about their lives and their daughter.
The none too fragile cast is excellent. Robert Ellis delivers one of the best performances I've seen on any Akron stage. Ireland Derry has become a strong actress while still a teenager and in school. She does get some special coaching, I'm sure, from her father Sean Derry, who directs this production. Sean Derry is also the set designer for this production and led the staff in building the set. He proves, once again, to be one of the best directors in the region.
The script has one major flaw. The show runs about 105 minutes without an intermission. The show could be equally strong with a few minutes clipped.
Something about the smell of death attracts family and acquaintances to check on the one fast leaving his life. Is Charlie a failure because he has not followed the lessons taught in other stories about whales? One should see this production simply to see quality theater. The lessons the playwright and actors teach deserve our attention.
The Whale continues at none too fragile theatre through February 18, 2017. For ticket information, call 330-962-5547 or visit nonetoofragile.com. The theater is in Bricco's Pub, 1835 Merriman Road, Akron.