Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“Fat Pig” – InnerMission Productions at Onstage Playhouse
“The Good Body” – San Diego Repertory Theatre
AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 19, 2008
Women’s bodies have been an obsession – of males and females – since fig leafs sprouted the Garden of Eden. Two current plays look at feminine anatomy from both gender perspectives.
“The Good Body” was written by Eve Ensler , who created the provocative, nearly revolutionary “Vagina Monologues,” which brought previously unspoken words into everyday discourse. Like that show, “The Good Body” started as a solo piece, performed by Ensler herself. This one’s much more autobiographical; it’s literal navel-gazing, since Ensler’s sole focus is her poochy stomach. There are many laughs to be had as she seeks out women around the world, and explores their feelings about their bodies. Turns out that most would happily trade in a few parts, believing that will enhance their lives. But there are a few who give her sound advice about acceptance and looking beyond your own belly.
Sounds okay, right? But here are the problems: First, “The Good Body” is not breaking any new ground. Pardon the puns, but Ensler goes for cheap belly-laughs and uses sex-talk just to titillate. More important, her narcissism is wearing and she’s just not very likable, kind of a fixated whiner. From an ardent feminist who spends her life writing about women’s real problems worldwide – rape, abuse, torture – we expect a little more depth, less superficial self-absorption.
The San Diego Repertory Theatre production, under the stellar direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, is beautiful to behold: strikingly designed and costumed, superbly acted. But as charming as Deanna Driscoll is, it’s not Eve who captures our attention; it’s all those other women, played by Karole Foreman and Linda Libby . Libby, in fact, nearly steals the show, with her Jewish housewife, beatific Indian, leather lesbian and others. The men in the audience got some guffaws but it’s really all about women and their endless dissatisfaction with their physical flaws.
Now, if you want to talk about body displeasure, look no further than “Fat Pig,” by Neil LaBute , a New York playwright famous for distastefully amoral characters.
Here, with a title that makes you cringe, a young man falls in love with a Plus-sized woman. He’s blissfully happy; but his work buddy and ex-girlfriend are appalled and insulting.
InnerMission Productions, in association with Onstage Playhouse, has done an excellent job with a tricky play. Under the nuanced direction of Kym Pappas, Carla Nell is funny and sad as the titular object of Tom’s affection, and Brendan Cavalier brings him convincingly to life. As those nasty naysayers, Ryan Ross and Jenna Dawsey are spot-on, their dramatic success measured by how truly odious they are.
Both disturbing plays shine a light on an ugly corner of our beauty-obsessed society. You’ll definitely be amused, but there’s pain behind the punchlines .
“The Good Body” runs through September 28, at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza .
“Fat Pig” continues through October 4 at the Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista .
©2008 PAT LAUNER