Credit: Courtesy Sun-Times Media

Dale Calandra has some experience with padding, having played Edna Turnblad, the jolly fat mommy in the musical stage version of Hairspray. And I guess he’s had some experience with overeating, too, since he claims to have been paid for his first acting gig—a McDonald’s commercial—in hamburgers. But none of that could’ve prepared him adequately for his role as Charlie, the 600-pound emotional train wreck at the center of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale. For this spring’s Victory Gardens Theater production, costume designer Janice Pytel encased Calandra in a fat suit that gave him the aspect of a gigantic bag of water wearing stretch pants. Calandra’s head looked like an afterthought, marooned atop that disturbingly realistic mass. He gave a powerful performance all the same, swimming down through layer after layer of defensive fat to find Charlie’s sweet, sorrowful, fatally overtaxed heart and bring it back up where we could see it.