January 19, 2015

A whale of a play, but not for the squeamish

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By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

The storyline of “The Whale” is much more off-putting than the actual experience of this powerful production at Rep Stage, the professional theater company based at Howard Community College.

Says the program material:

“Since the death of his partner, a morbidly obese man confines himself to his small apartment on the outskirts of Mormon Country, eating himself into oblivion. Desperate to re-connect with his long-estranged daughter, he reaches out to her, only to find a viciously sharp-tongued and wildly unhappy teen.”

Oh, my. Pretty icky.

How exactly does one play a 600-pound fat man who sits wheezing on a couch teaching online writing courses? Veteran DC actor Michael Russotto pulls it off masterfully, and he explains how in this interview on DCTheaterScene.

Sometimes you find yourself at a play thinking “real people don’t talk this way,” but everyone in “The Whale” is fully believable. Megan Anderson, one of the stars of the Everyman Theatre company in Baltimore, is terrific as usual playing a nurse friend caring for this whale of a man, Jenna Rossman is the snotty teenager, Wood Van Meter is the awkward young Morman missionary, and Susan Rome is the alcoholic mom who arrives late in second act.

The play is like live TV reality show shot in a dingy apartment, and most definitely worth seeing. It is not as funny as some of its advance notices say, but does have some weird humorous moments.

In an effort to attract bigger audiences midweek, RepStage is having Pay-What-You-Can performances the next two Thursdays.

So why in the heck is MarylandReporter.com running a theater review?

Mainly because I don’t think RepStage gets enough attention, and we have noticed declining audiences at the Saturday matinees we usually attend. While its productions take place in the small Studio Theater at a community college, this not a college production, but a thoroughly professional theater group.

There are also a few of your tax dollars at work though the Maryland State Arts Council and the Howard County Arts Council. According to the state Arts Council’s latest report, the arts have $1 billion impact on the state, but the budget for the council is $16 million, with $10 million of that going to hundreds of nonprofit arts organizations throughout Maryland, from art museum and orchestras, to theaters and dance companies.

In the past, governors have targeted arts funding for cuts, but these cuts have generated a massive outpouring of support from some of the well-heeled board members and patrons of arts organizations throughout the state.

The state and local funding is only a smart of the funding for most of these organizations, and the best way to support them is by actually seeing live theater, professionally done.

The Whale is a good opportunity to do just that, but it is not for squeamish.

  • Angie Boyter

    Part of the answer to the declining audience could be better publicity. I had not even heard the play was being performed, for example. Can’t buy tickets to something I do not know about.