Mad Horse Theatre Company aims to deliver poignant productions that stray from the norm, and Samuel D. Hunter’s “The Whale” is definitely on target. The colossally titled play offers an intimate story about love, loss and the monstrous judgments heaped on people in life.

Burke Brimmer gives an exceptional performance as Charlie, the play’s living – and tragic – metaphor. Psychologically damaged after the devastating death of his Mormon boyfriend, Charlie has allowed his weight to balloon from portly to a morbidly obese 600 pounds. Brimmer brings dry wit and a crushing wretchedness that makes the character genuine.

Burke Brimmer as Charlie and Amy Torrey as Mary. Photos courtesy of Mad Horse Theatre Company

Aided by prosthetics designed by director Christine Marshall, Mad Horse has transformed the normally thin Brimmer into a sizeable onstage presence. He’s a sight to see in huge stained sweatpants, but it’s Brimmer’s acting that ultimately brings the character to life.His labored, raspy breathing and shaking weakness are realistic and devoid of caricature.

Any past production recollections of Brimmer as a strong, agile man are quickly dispelled, replaced by his seemingly new existence as a man who struggles to get up off the couch and barely fits through doorways. Set designer Matthew Ferrel completes the convincing illusion with props that accentuate Charlie’s weight, such as a small couch that sags in the middle.

The four satellite characters in the play are each battling their own demons and pain. Liz, a nurse played by Amanda Eaton, is at war with her family’s religion that she feels killed her brother. She couldn’t stop him from self-destructing and is desperate to save his partner, Charlie. Ella Briman is Charlie’s 16-year-old daughter Ellie, who is viciously lashing out at the world that has wronged her, and Gus La Rou is Elder Thomas, the doe-eyed 19-year-old Mormon missionary with a hidden past.

Amy Torrey rounds out the cast as Charlie’s ex-wife, Mary. Torrey delivers a powerful performance that captures her character’s oscillating emotions of anger and compassion.

“The Whale” is a pointed production that’s moving, without being showy or overtly emotional, allowing the silence between the words to speak volumes. The play doesn’t rely on foregone conclusions, instead prompting the members of the audience to form their own.

We live in a world that’s all too often quick to judge. Appearance, religion, sexual orientation and countless other traits are used to label people, but do they really define who we are, or what we are capable of? Is it possible to overcome labels, or are the scars they leave just too deep?

The story of “The Whale” unfolds slowly, with care, allowing the audience to discover the characters and their secrets. Revealing details are subtly interwoven into the story, fully to be revealed as the play winds to a dramatic close.

Mad Horse has a knack for delivering poignant productions that engage the audience. “The Whale” hits home, with just the right touch of humor.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

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Twitter: @ahboyle

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