'The Whale'

The cast of 'The Whale' includes, clockwise from left, Makay Loran, Susan Hayes, Cruz Martinez, Kate Restad and Shad Scott-Wilson. The Sacrifice Cliff Theatre production plays Oct. 26-28 at the NOVA Center.

There is heartache but also joy at the core of Sacrifice Cliff Theatre’s staging of “The Whale.”

It opens at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Black Box Theatre at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts and runs through Nov. 4. For reservations, call 672-9291. In an effort to make theater available to everyone, admission is pay what you will.

Director Patrick Scott-Wilson said he has been mulling over the idea of producing “The Whale” since he produced “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” last year. He came across Samuel Hunter’s script for “The Whale,” and was moved by the idea of finding beauty in the toughest of places.

Wilson cast his husband, Shad Scott-Wilson, in the leading role of Charlie, a sensitive and witty writing professor who is killing himself with food. He weighs 600 pounds and his health is failing, yet Charlie refuses to go the hospital because he doesn’t have health insurance.

Fearing that the end is near, Charlie reconnects with his estranged daughter, Ellie, played by Central Catholic High School senior Makay Loran. Ellie is tough, wicked smart and failing her classes, including English.

“I’m playing someone my own age, but that’s where the similarities end. She is the problem child,” Loran said.

Wilson had several months to cast the show, looking for just the right actor to fill each role. As he ran rehearsal Monday night, Wilson nodded toward Kate Restad, who is playing Liz, a feisty nurse who is a friend of Charlie’s.

“Kate is Liz,” he said.

Liz is snarky, but very protective of Charlie. When a young Mormon missionary comes to the door, she lays into him, blaming religion for killing Charlie’s boyfriend, which sent Charlie on his downward spiral. Cruz Martinez plays the missionary who keeps coming back, even though he gets rebuked every time.

“The Whale” is big-hearted, and while it dramatizes a sad situation there is humor in the snark. Scott’s compassionate and honest portrayal of Charlie is the heart of this production.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.