A ‘Whale’ of a show

Posted on 16 Oct 2015 at 7:30am

Leyva shines in L.I.P. Service production


Jason Leyva as Charlie

Mark Lowry | Contributing Writer

FARMER’S BRANCH — Gay men don’t all look like Abercrombie and Fitch models. But on the flip side, even fewer look like Charlie, the central character of Samuel D. Hunter’s beautifully crafted 2012 play The Whale.

Screen shot 2015-10-15 at 11.57.37 AMIn fact, very few people in general are like Charlie, who “has always been big” but is now approaching 600 pounds and perennially on the verge of a heart attack.

That he is gay, and that the loss of his lover contributed to a downward spiral that caused the intense weight gain, is just one facet of this intriguing character. He earns money by teaching and grading college essays on literature. In this play, he focuses on Moby-Dick (another thread in the story brings up Jonah and the Whale).

As sensitively played by Jason Leyva in the play’s North Texas premiere by L.I.P. Service, using the Firehouse Theatre in Farmer’s Branch, Charlie is a character who’s easy to love — and easy to be frustrated with. How could someone with so much to give — with his mind, his heart — do such a thing to himself?

Hunter — the Idaho native who local audiences will hear from soon when the Dallas Theater Center performs the world premiere of his Clarkston in December — doesn’t judge Charlie. He leaves that up to the other characters: his friend and nurse Liz (Amy Cave); a sympathetic Mormon missionary, Elder Thomas (R. Andrew Aguilar), who shows up at the right time at Charlie’s door; Charlie’s ex-wife Mary (Leslie Boren); and most significantly, their daughter Ellie (a terrific, angry Taylor Donnelson), who’s now 17 and hasn’t seen her father since she was a toddler.


Taylor Donnelson, left, as Ellie with Amy Cave, right, as Liz.

Director Danny Macchietto’s biggest casting misstep is using Aguilar, a hulking man in his late 20s who can’t pass for 19, especially in the scenes with real teenager Donnelson.

While there is some uneven acting in the ensemble (a problem that plagues most LS productions), the draw here is the astonishing performance by Levya, wearing a gargantuan fat suit and moving like someone with that kind of morbid obesity. There’s so much nuance in this performance of a man who can’t move around much, and has no real explanation for what led to this situation.

It’s an amazing feat, physically and emotionally.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2015.

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