In a must-see show, Brad Myers gives his weightiest performance yet
You hear Brad Myers in “The Whale” before you see him. The wheezing from the darkened stage is alarming and disorienting, like in the middle of the night when you wake from a deep sleep to hear one of your kids throwing up. As the lights slowly rise, we begin to focus on the source of this unhealthy sound. That’s when we first see Charlie, a troubled man. He thinks he could weigh 600 pounds, though it’s been years since he’s been able to get on a scale to know for sure. In a culture in which obesity seems ever more common, Charlie’s physical condition is still enough to alarm.
In Fresno City College’s fine production of Samuel D. Hunter’s play, which ran off Broadway in 2012, Myers — a Fresno State theater professor appearing in this production as a guest actor — gives a performance as Charlie that is revelatory. It’s a terrific, mesmerizing and deeply affecting piece of work.
You might be tempted to attribute my over-the-top praise to something similar to the Oscar “disability effect,” in which actors playing characters with physical or mental disabilities — often gut-wrenching roles involving extensive makeup or prosthetics — have an edge in terms of critical acclaim. Yes, perhaps that is a factor. But at its core, Myers’ performance seems so much more than a couple of hours in a fat suit. (And what a well designed fat suit it is, thanks to Debra Erven). With limited mobility other than from the neck up, he relies almost exclusively on his voice and eyes to make the character work.
In “The Whale,” whose title is a nod to the obvious and also the literary — Melville’s “Moby Dick” is a recurring motif — Charlie is a housebound recluse living in a small Idaho town who supports himself as an online writing instructor. His dwelling is a dump, with years of accumulated detritus and dirty dishes clogging nearly every surface. (Christina McCollam-Martinez’s set has a distinctly closed-in feel, with no windows, almost like a coffin.) His only brush with the outside world is a stalwart friend and nurse, Liz (Aleah Muniz), who brings his food and keeps an eye on his rapidly deteriorating health. The diagnosis is congestive heart failure, and if he doesn’t get to a hospital soon, the prognosis is grim. He’s eating himself to death.