Hensley dons a costume and padding that traps the actor in the body of Charlie, a mentally vibrant but emotionally (and mostly couch-bound) lost soul. Surrounding Hensley's character are people feeding his dysfunction or challenging it, or both. Expect a pile of award nominations to come Hensley's way in the spring.
Davis McCallum, who directed the world premiere of Quiara Alegria Hudes' Pulitzer Prize-winning Water By the Spoonful, helms the Playwrights production, which runs to Dec. 9, representing an extension. (The run lost two performances Oct. 28 and Oct. 30 due to a mass transit shutdown related to Hurricane Sandy.)
Hensley ( Young Frankenstein, Tarzan) is joined by Theatre World Award winner Cassie Beck ( The Drunken City and Prayer for My Enemy at Playwrights, Broadway's The Norman Conquests) as a nurse, Reyna de Courcy (Off-Broadway's Burning) as Charlie's daughter, Tasha Lawrence ( Wilder, Wilder, Wilder and Good People on Broadway) as his ex-wife and Cory Michael Smith ( The Shaggs at Playwrights, Cock) as a Mormon missionary who may be able to unlock a mystery in Charlie's past.
Here's how Playwrights bills The Whale, which had its world premiere earlier this year in a separate production by Denver Center Theatre Company: "On the outskirts of Mormon Country, Idaho, a 600-pound recluse (Hensley) hides away in his apartment eating himself to death. Desperate to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter (de Courcy), he reaches out to her, only to find a viciously sharp-tongued and wildly unhappy teen. Big-hearted and fiercely funny, The Whale tells the story of a man's last chance at redemption, and of finding beauty in the most unexpected places."
Playwright Hunter is a 2011 Obie Award winner for his work A Bright New Boise, which also received a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play. His other works include A Permanent Image, Jack's Precious Moment, Five Genocides, Norway and I Am Montana. The PH production team includes scenic designer Mimi Lien, costume designer Jessica Pabst, lighting designer Jane Cox and sound designer Fitz Patton. Production stage manager is Alaina Taylor.
The 199-seat Peter Jay Sharp Theater is located at 416 W. 42nd Street. For more information, visit PlaywrightsHorizons.org.