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Shuler Hensley (#110 of 2)

Interview: Ian McKellen and Sean Mathias on Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land

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Interview: Ian McKellen and Sean Mathias on Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land
Interview: Ian McKellen and Sean Mathias on Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land

The paired productions of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, currently on Broadway, offer the rare treat of seeing two 20th-century classics back to back in repertory, and the opportunity to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart give virtuoso displays of their considerable theatrical skills. The knighted English actors, of course, started their careers on the stage, long before they became international screen stars, best known, respectively, for the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek franchises, and, together, for their characters with super powers in the X-Men series. On Broadway, Sir Ian is collaborating with Sean Mathias, the Welsh-born director, with whom he’s enjoyed a personal, artistic, and professional relationship for over three decades. I recently talked to the actor and director about their long-term friendship, and about the two plays at the Cort Theatre.

Big Fish to Fry: Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale at Playwrights Horizons

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Big Fish to Fry: Samuel D. Hunter’s <em>The Whale</em> at Playwrights Horizons
Big Fish to Fry: Samuel D. Hunter’s <em>The Whale</em> at Playwrights Horizons

On my grade school’s trip to an aquarium, I couldn’t understand how the whale didn’t sink from its own weight. I feel the same about Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale. The writing, design, even the lead actor are wrapped in heavy layers, both literal and symbolic. The play opens with 600-pound Charlie suffering what seems to be a heart attack, and then things take a turn for the worse: Barring some massive turnaround, Charlie’s got less than a week to live. Somehow, though, Davis McCallum’s production remains buoyant. This Whale floats.

As the days tick down through thick and not so thin, we wade through allusions to Moby Dick and Jonah, and every scene break brings sounds of crashing waves. But this is far from a crushing bore. Undercurrents of dry humor and wry emotion keep things bubbling along. The aforementioned cardiac episode occurs while Charlie’s watching Internet porn and fending off a visit from a door-to-door Mormon. One’s heart may sink a bit when the young Elder appears. Many of them have been knocking on stage doors these days and that’s far from the only common trope in use here. Charlie’s main goal is reconnecting with Ellie, the teenaged daughter he hasn’t seen since he came out of the closet when she was a toddler. We’ve seen countless family-reconciliation plays and lots of closed-off girls like Ellie, but even when The Whale wanders into heavily fished waters, it still comes up with fresh revelations and bracing truths.