At first glance, “The Whale” is pretty ugly.
A 600-pound man plopped on a sofa that’s about to fall through the floor, sitting amid strewn litter that once was the packaging for much of the food he gorged to get to this point. In the background, strains of waves hitting the shore play, intermittently paired with his own compromised, gurgling breaths.
This “Whale,” Charlie (John Kuntz), has very little human contact, earning his living teaching online courses and receiving all medical advice from Liz (Georgia Lyman), a friend who is a nurse and his greatest enabler. But as his life nears its predictable end, he begins to find a human connection with his teenage daughter Ellie (Josephine Elwood), who he hasn’t seen in years, her alcoholic mother Mary (Maureen Keiller) and Elder Thomas (Ryan O’Connor) a random (or is it) visiting Mormon missionary.
While you could easily get lost in analysis and the subtext of playwright Samuel Hunter’s piece, the dysfunctional spectacle in front of you is so riveting you can’t take your eyes off of it. As layer upon layer of emotional entanglement unravel, you begin to see that each of these people is an isolated specimen craving attention of their own.
Turns out, Charlie is the only one who seems comfortable in his plight and fate.
Kuntz, (in padding), imbues him with so much humanity you root for him to overcome. Though every strained breath and movement is heartbreakingly authentic, he nicely avoids victimizing him.
The remainder of the ensemble delivers equally impressive performances with Lyman and Elwood displaying great comic timing. Keiller, in a small but pivotal part, keeps it from veering into freak show territory with her stellar, grounded work.
If you go
Through April 5th
BCA 539 Tremont St., Boston
$25 - $62