I saw a reading of The Whale during the Denver Center Theatre Company's New Play Summit last year, and it left a vivid impression. I remember a 600-pound man on a chair center stage -- a composition teacher trapped and drowning in his own fat and yearning for reconciliation with his estranged daughter. And I vaguely remember something about a Mormon missionary and a rather sympathetic estranged wife. But looking back, I see I'd forgotten that the man is gay. That's emblematic of the way Obie-winning author Samuel D. Hunter approaches his material; he doesn't preach or belabor the obvious. There's no talk here about sexual identity, broken families or America's obesity epidemic, and the missionary is presented as neither saintly nor ridiculous. Hunter gives us a daring central image (how does a director deal with an almost entirely immobile protagonist?) and a quietly truthful series of actions swirling around him. And yet the show is riveting rather than static. You like the man. You empathize with his grubby, difficult reality, and in particular, with his constant groping for ways of communicating with his students and -- most important -- his daughter, as well as a language to give shape and meaning to his curtailed life.
The DCTC is now giving The Whale a full production in the Ricketson Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex; it opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight and runs through February 19, with shows every day but Monday. For a complete schedule and ticket information, call 303-893-4100 or go to www.denvercenter.org.
Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 1:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 13. Continues through Feb. 19, 2012