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Hurt, fear and redemption play an integral part of None Too Fragile's poignant "The Whale" by Samuel D. Hunter.
The cast of this show does an incredible job balancing their characters' many flaws and cracks with their humanity. The sold-out crowd at the opening night show Feb. 3 reacted throughout the show and seemed engaged throughout.
The show is directed by Sean Derry.
The titular "Whale" refers to two entities: one is Charlie (Robert Ellis), a morbidly obese man dying essentially of suicide by self-neglect. The second refers to Charlie's favorite novel, Moby-Dick. The novel, and an essay on that novel, are referenced frequently.
Two people attempt to save Charlie in their own ways. Liz, a longtime friend and a nurse, is Charlie's only constant lifeline to the outside world, which Charlie has given up on. Liz (Jen Klika) cares deeply for Charlie and is terrified of losing her close friend, but her own flaws, fears and heartbreaks turn her more into an enabler than a help. She butts heads with Elder Thomas (Jon Heus), a young Morman who is striving to save Charlie's soul, and not just for the purpose of the church's mandates. The dynamic between the evangelistic Elder and the grieving Charlie and Liz is well-handled.
Charlie wishes nothing more than to reach out to his teenage daughter, whom he hasn't seen since she was a toddler. When he does meet Ellie (Ireland Derry), he finds her to be a bitter, angry and stubborn young woman whose sharp tongue is matched only by her sharper pen (or keyboard). Mary (Rose Gabriele), Charlie's ex-wife, has given up on the teen, even calling her evil at one point. Charlie, however, sees only her talents, her skill with words (even when they are cutting him) and the vulnerability. The truth, as in most things, is probably somewhere in the middle.
It's uncertain what would have become of these characters after the play's ending, but their attempts at connecting and healing each other, while also at times driving each other away, made for an engaging, if heartbreaking, story.
Ticket and show information
"The Whale" can be seen through Feb. 18. Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., as well as a Monday show on Feb. 13 at 8, and a Sunday matinee Feb. 12 at 2 p.m.
The play runs without intermission, and is about 1 hour, 45 minutes long.
None Too Fragile is at 1835 Merriman Road in Akron, within Pub Bricco. For details or reservations, call 330-962-5547 or visit www.nonetoofragile.com.
The theater will next stage "A Skull in Connemara" by Martin McDonagh March 17 through April 1. None Too Fragile staged the other two plays in McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and "The Lonesome West," in previous seasons.