Nashville-based actor Shawn Knight stars in the lead role of Verge Theater Company's production of The Whale, now playing at the Blackbox Theatre on the Belmont University campus. The play runs June 10, 11, and 14. Showtime is 7:30pm. Exclusive to O&AN, Knight shares his thoughts on playing the lead character, Charlie.
by Shawn Knight
Nashville’s Verge Theater Company has, as part of its mission, the goal of giving voice to the voiceless, portraying the kinds of people not typically seen on stage, and this is certainly true of the character of Charlie in their current production of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale.
Consider the first scene of the play: as Charlie, the title character, sits at his computer, he begins to suffer chest pains; he desperately reaches for his cell phone, only to knock it out of reach just as a Mormon missionary appears at his door. This scenario is certainly not commonly seen on the stage.
I have the honor and challenge of playing Charlie, a morbidly obese gay man facing his own mortality and trying to make amends with his ex-wife, his best friend, and his estranged daughter. A myriad of themes pepper this play, but one stands out as particularly relevant during LGBT pride month—acceptance.
What has caused Charlie to find himself approaching 600 pounds is the guilt he feels, not over who he is, but for the way he has been able to help or not help those in his life as they have been challenged to accept themselves. This seems cryptic, but I fear giving away details of the plot. The Whale is a play that deserves to be seen and experienced with as little known about the characters as possible. It is filled with mysteries to be solved, as they are slowly revealed throughout the play, but it is ultimately his inability to save his own partner from fear and doubt and family expectations that consumes Charlie. And this inability drives him desperately to save others.
The danger of failing to accept and love others is not limited to the victim; the waves of pain and destruction ripple through all of the victim’s relationships, destroying so many more. But what one does in response to cruelty is a true measure of a life.
Charlie’s desperate need to make amends, to heal wounds, to save others is on a clock. His health will not allow him much more time, and as he sees the end approaching, he fights even harder. He will no longer passively accept the hatred that has spawned so much cruelty. Disease and all, Charlie’s heart is strong and filled with love, and a central question of The Whale is whether or not he can triumph over the hate to build a better world and, in the end, a stronger person to fight for the next generation.
This fight should be an inspiration to all.
For more information on The Whale, see www.vergetheaterco.org