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None Too Fragile’s production of ‘The Whale’ is a heavy dose of reality

In the collection of complex human emotions, guilt ranks high on the list as far as psychological impact. Since all of us live an imperfect existence it is inevitable that we error thus harming either ourselves and/or another person (usually someone very close to us making the pain that more acute). Whether through adolescent upbringing or religious training we are taught to do “penance for our sins” thus we put on “the hair shirt” in order to sweat out our self punishment. Sometimes these punishments take the form of various addictions (of which we are made to feel even guiltier about) thus we see lives spiral out of control.

Samuel D. Hunters The Whale, now being staged at None-Too-Fragile and directed by Sean Derry examines the lives of five characters that are interrelated by the sins of their past and present.

Charlie (Robert Ellis*) is an on-line instructor of English Composition for a Cyber University. He is a prisoner in his own apartment due to his weight that he guesses to be in the neighborhood of 575 to 600 pounds (it is years since he has been able to weigh himself). He is in the advanced staged of congestive heart failure but refuses all medical help stating that he does not have any health insurance (in spite of a secret bank account to be left to his daughter). His penance is to literally eat himself to death because his male lover, Allen, died years ago of anorexia (brought on Charlie thinks from a visit to a LDS Chapel where Allen’s father was the presiding bishop). Charlie also has guilt over leaving his family. He lives life one medical emergency after another.

*Member of Actors Equity Association

His caretaker/enabler is Liz (Jen Klika), the sister of Allen (Charlie’s deceased lover) who while desperately trying to keep him alive brings him Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets and Subway Meatball sandwiches with double cheese. She seems to be trying to seek forgiveness for her brother’s death (of which she had no control over) by watching Charlie die by inches.

Ellie (Ireland Derry) is Charlie’s daughter from a failed marriage before his meeting and falling in love with Allen. Ellie is friendless, a problem at school and home and angry with the world and everything in it. She uses confrontation and marijuana as coping mechanisms.

New to the scene is Elder Thomas (Jon Heus), an LDS Missionary who by the fact that he is companionless immediately makes him a suspect as to his past. He is in fact a failed missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who when kicked off his original mission traveled to his present address taking a new identity. His goal is to convince just one person to “be saved through the healing power of Jesus” and his church and enjoy the spiritual benefits that he himself enjoys. He is a former habitual pot smoker who during one of visits to Charlie succumbs to an offer to smoke up by Ellie.

Rounding out the group is Mary (Rose Gabriele), Charlie’s ex-wife who alternates between prescription drugs and booze while raising “an evil wild child” of her making. She still loves Charlie in spite of what he has done to his body.

Thus in the course of the one hour and forty five minutes (without intermission) you have five damaged souls in various stages of self abuse desperately trying to expunge their guilt using all the wrong tools. At times the work on stage transcends the venue and becomes truly heartbreaking and riveting. While the dialog is quite telling it is the facial expressions that tell the real story. Some looks give us a deep look into their very souls.

Robert Ellis in full body fat suit gives one of the most memorable performances seen in recent years in Northeast Ohio. With his shallow breathing and wheezing it is a wonder how he does not hyperventilate on stage. You see his timed decline as the show progresses. You feel empathy and revulsion at the same time for his Charlie.

Ireland Derry as Ellie plays the kind of “kid” you want to take a good sock at. She is trouble on two wheels with no sense of remorse. It takes a fine actress to get the audience to universally dislike the character even when she redeems herself somewhat in the end.

Jen Klika as Liz plays the part of desperate hanger on whose motive is unclear. If she truly cares about Charlie why does she keep bringing him all the wrong food (especially considering that she is a health professional).

Jon Heus plays Elder Thomas with a high degree of authenticity right down to the “pass along cards” and Book of Mormon clutched in his hands. He has been well trained as a missionary and is scripture smart but street clueless.

Rose Gabriele is Mary, the ex-wife who still cannot fathom how she could have been wronged by “another man.” There is anger at Charlie but it is measured with love putting her in conflict with herself.

This is an adult show with adult themes and situations including language, frank discussion of the gay lifestyle, LDS church discussions, drugs and alcohol. Those disturbed by such topics might wish to stay at home.

If you are a fan of shows that deliver hard hitting emotion, this is the one show you will not want to miss. You will find yourself drawn in to a swirling cauldron of despair, anger, self pity and addiction. After seeing this show you are guaranteed to feel better about your life by comparison no matter what.

The Whale will be onstage at None Too Fragile through February 18, 2017 with show times of Thursday, Friday, Saturdays and Mondays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (330) 962-5547 or online at None Too Fragile is located

in Club Bricco located at 1835 Merriman Road, Akron, Ohio

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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