The orca Tilikum was taken from the remote waters of Iceland at the age of 2 and penned in a pool proportioned like a bathtub away from the ocean and even the sun most of his waking hours. Tilikum became a killer by the age of 10, 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 SeaWorld poster girl Dawn Brancheau, dragged into the water, dismembered, and partially eaten minutes after a Dine with Shamu show. These gruesome homicides and the inhumane conditions of Tilikum’s life sparked an outcry. There will be no more whales at SeaWorld.
What is the difference between a whale and a man, asks Kristiana Rae Colón’s new play Tilikum. Why should a black fish evoke more sympathy than a black man when 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 Gregory Geffrard, every inch of him danced before the eyes on a set that looks like the shallow end of a drained swimming pool. The prisoner’s trick of knocking against walls to speak become 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