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.