Why does a sea mammal evoke more sympathy than a black man?, asks Tilikum | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Why does a sea mammal evoke more sympathy than a black man?, asks Tilikum 

Kristiana Rae Colón's new play, inspired by the documentary Blackfish, tells the tragic story of an orca whale imprisoned at Sea World.

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Jonathan L. Green

The orca Tilikum was taken from the remote waters of Iceland at the age of two and penned in a cramped pool away from the ocean and even the sun most of his waking hours. Tilikum became a killer by the age of ten, drowning trainer Keltie Byrne in an incident spun as an accident. The 12,000-pound behemoth killed and killed again, including among his victims senior trainer and Sea World poster girl Dawn Brancheau, whom he dragged into the water, dismembered, and partially ate minutes after a Dine With Shamu show at the park. These gruesome deaths and the inhumane conditions of Tilikum's life sparked a public outcry. There will be no more whales at Sea World.

What is the difference between a whale and a man?, asks Kristiana Rae Colón's new play Tilikum. Why should a black whale evoke more sympathy than a black man when he's taken from what he loves and kept in untenable circumstances? Sideshow Theatre's production, under the direction of Lili-Anne Brown, demands consideration of these questions by rendering Tilikum in the body of a black man, Gregory Geffrard, who speaks and dances his story on a set that looks like the shallow end of a drained swimming pool. The prisoner's trick of knocking against walls to speak becomes drums representing the language of the other captive orcas—as urgent and opaque as each pod's language might be to another. "When you forget your magic, even your skin be a wall," says Tilikum. No more.   v

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