Weighty issues drive ‘Whale’

UDM’s Theatre Company debuted its first production of its 45th season on Friday. 

“The Whale” explores the life of Charlie, a depressed and ill 600-pound man as he struggles to reconnect with his daughter and himself. 

It is also the first show for UDM at The Ringwald, a theater located at 9 Mile and Woodward in Ferndale. It will be staged there every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday through Oct. 26.

Because UDM does not have a theatre on campus, the company typically uses others venues. It has used the Marygrove Theatre for many years, but this year is taking a different approach to connect with its audience.

Though the Marygrove theatre seats 400 guests, The Ringwald only has seating for 80. 

“You can not hide at The Ringwald,” said Greg Grobis, assistant professor and director of “The Whale.” “It is a very intimate space.”

Theatre location is not the only change the company has made recently, however.

Starting in fall 2014, the Theatre Company began a “multi-phase endeavor,” according to Grobis.

It included a redevelopment of the curriculum.

Now, instead of earning a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts), theatre students will work toward a BA (Bachelor of Arts), which the faculty view as a better lead-in to an MFA (Master of Fine Arts).

The second part was to address the university’s mission.

In the productions its puts on, the Theatre Company wants to address issues of social justice and pursue UDM’s mission through stories.

“The Theatre Company’s social justice mission aligns perfectly with The Ringwald Theater’s edgy social justice values,” said Grobis in a news release. “Providing a voice to the oppressed and acknowledgement that every person deserves love and equality is at the heart of both our theatres.”

Finally, the third and most long-term element of the endeavor is to have a theater on the McNichols Campus.

Theatre faculty members believe that a theater on campus would help draw incoming students while offering other students something to do on weekends, Grobis said.

Already, the university gained eight incoming theatre majors this academic year, Grobis said – a major jump for the program.

In the coming season, the company plans to offer three additional shows: “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and “Low Hanging Fruit,” which will both take place at the Boll Family YMCA Theatre in Detroit, and “A Night with David L. Regal” at the Marygrove Theatre. 

Regal, a longtime actor and professor, announced his retirement this year. The April 9 production will be a showcase of his contributions and accomplishments at UDM, as well as a special performance by Regal himself. 

As for the current production, “The Whale,” tickets are $10 for students and $22 for faculty, staff and alumni. For info, call 313-993-3270.

The Detroit Free Press named seeing “The Whale” as one of the top five productions to see in October in metro Detroit.